Great Britain’s showjumpers made it a case of mission accomplished at the FEI European Championships in Aachen by securing prized qualification for next year’s Rio Olympics.
Although the British team of Ben Maher (Diva II), Jessica Mendoza (Spirit T), Joe Clee (Utamaro d’Ecaussines) and Michael Whitaker (Cassionato) missed out on a bronze medal by just 0.760 penalties, a fourth-place finish still took them to Rio, where they will defend the Olympic title next summer.
Maher jumped clear, while Mendoza and Clee each had four faults, and Whitaker’s total of nine faults proved to be the discarded team score.
Switzerland and Spain booked the other two qualifying places, but controversy reigned after Ireland missed out on the Olympics in unexpected circumstances.
One of the main arena stewards ran in front of Cian O’Connor during his round, and the London 2012 individual bronze medallist had the next fence down. If O’Connor had jumped clear instead of collecting four faults, then Ireland would have overtaken Spain and qualified.
Irish team officials lodged an immediate protest, but it remains to be seen if anything can be done. Ireland finished a mere 0.380 penalties behind Spain.
Reigning world champions Holland added European gold to their collection after an imperious display by Jeroen Dubbeldam (pictured), Maikel van der Vleuten, Jur Vrieling and Gerco Schroder, with the German quartet of Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum and Daniel Duesser finishing second and Switzerland third.
Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya leads the individual competition heading into Sunday’s final, when the top 25 qualifiers will also include Clee and Maher, together with Irish trio of O’Connor, Bertram Allen and Denis Lynch.
Clee said: “My horse jumped amazingly. I am so happy with his performance, but I am just kicking myself a little bit. I could have been a bit sharper coming down that distance, and I could have helped him a bit more.
“We came here to do a job, and that was to qualify for the Olympics, but then when you come so close, it’s gutting when you don’t get a medal.
“The team performed fantastically. I am really happy for Jess. She pulled it back and she rode a really good round to finish, which is great for her, and it was great for the qualification for the Olympics. She helped us qualify for the Olympics.
“We all had that on our minds, and we had great team spirit and we all had the same purpose here. I think the team spirit carries us, and we really pulled together.”
Mendoza, who, at 19, is the youngest British showjumper selected for a senior championship since Debbie Johnsey went to the 1976 Montreal Olympics, added: “I think the first few days I wasn’t used to the ring, and today I knew I had to try and go good, so I gave it all I could.
“It’s completely different here in Aachen. It wasn’t really suiting my horse on the first few days, then after riding in it for a few days I’ve got used to it.”
And Whitaker said: ““We were less than one fault away from the bronze medal, so it’s really disappointing actually. The main thing was to qualify, and we did that, but a medal would have been a real bonus.
“I’m very happy (to help get the team to Rio). I want to stick with this team next year. All these guys have worked really hard, and they deserve a chance. The main thing was to get qualified, and we did.”
Final team standings: 1 Holland 8.820, 2 Germany 12.400, 3 Switzerland 18.230, 4 Great Britain 18.990, 5 France 21.700, 6 Spain 25.580, 7 Ireland 25.960, 8 Ukraine 32.030, 9 Sweden 44.300, 10 Denmark 47.270.
Image: Jeroen Dubbeldam led the Dutch team to win team gold at the European Championships in Aachen, by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI