All Eyes Turn to ‘Once in a Lifetime Marathon’ after Enthralling First Day of Driving

Photo: Theo Timmerman (NED) (FEI/Claes Jakobsson)

The stage is set for a titanic battle with driving’s biggest names nestled together on a tightly-packed leaderboard after day one of the Longines FEI European Championships 2017 in Gothenburg (SWE).

It will be the orange men of the Netherlands who move on from the dressage to the marathon test in the best spirits, after claiming the top two individual spots and finishing more than seven points clear in the team competition on a score of 85.83.

But Germany, under the temporary tutelage of world number one Boyd Exell (AUS), showed a marked overall improvement in dressage, getting all three of their team into the top seven individual positions. They currently lie second in the team standings.

Meanwhile, rising star Edouard Simonet (BEL) laid down a strong marker as he moved into individual third to steer Team Belgium into a temporary hold on bronze, a slender 2.54 penalties adrift of the Germans.

It is Theo Timmerman (NED) though who tops the individual placings after producing a flawless dressage display in front of the biggest crowd of the week at the Heden Arena. “The feeling was good; I did every figure, every transition perfectly,” he said.

The 52-year-old’s score of 41.82 placed him just ahead of compatriot Ijsbrand Chardon (NED), who revealed he’d been forced to change his best two horses following July’s FEI World Cup™ competition in Aachen (GER).

An exuberant Timmerman shared an interesting take on just why the Dutch have dominated the team aspect of this event for the past decade.

“It sounds stupid as we are a team, but we don’t work together. We all do our own thing, we know each other, we do the course walk together, but training-wise and driving-wise Koos (de Ronde) does his thing, Ijsbrand (Chardon) does his thing and I do my thing and we don’t bother each other.” — Overnight leader Theo Timmerman (NED)

The Germans, who take a different attitude to team building, spent the early part of the week in a training camp at the farm of team member Mareike Harm under the watchful eye of Exell. It too seems to be working.

“The 2012 World Championships was the last time I was under 50,” said Georg von Stein, who is running two of Exell’s horses in his team. “I was calmer with the support of Boyd (Exell), all his experience and the training we did. It felt easier with his horses.”

Von Stein starts the marathon course seventh overall, three places behind teammate Harm. With specialist marathon driver Christoph Sandmann (GER) lying fifth, the 2015 European Championship silver medallists will fancy going one better here.

The young guns from Belgium will no doubt have something to say about that though. Simonet led the charge in the morning, finishing with his best dressage score for two years.

“To be at or near my best at a Championship is good. I was up at 5.30am and in the practice arena at 6.30am. It was worth it!” — Edouard Simonet (BEL) in third after dressage

Exell, the 27-year-old’s coach and mentor, noted that the next two days are a “big opportunity” for his charge, who scored 45.42.

As soon as each driver stepped off his or her carriage, thoughts turned to the marathon test. Event leader Timmerman neatly summed up the drivers’ thoughts as they contemplated flying through Gothenburg’s city centre and into the Slottsskogen Park for the obstacles test.

“This is something special; once or twice in your life you have something like this. They had it in Stockholm in ‘88, it was great, and they do it again in Sweden. You don’t find it anywhere else where they do it like this. I can’t wait to see how many people will be there.” — Theo Timmerman (NED) on why the Slottsskogen marathon will be so special

By Luke Norman

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