Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei (FEI/Martin Dokoupil)
They’d been waiting a long time – a full 26 years since last topping the line-up on home ground at the Grundenmoos Arena – so the Swiss victory in the first leg of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup 2022 Europe Division 1 series at St Gallen was extra-sweet.
Even though they were lying equal-second with The Netherlands and Norway carrying eight faults at the halfway stage of the eight-nation contest, Michel Sorg’s side was filled with confidence. In the end, three second-round clears wrapped it up.
Great Britain had the whip hand at the halfway stage when, with only the best three scores counting for each team, they could drop one of the four-fault efforts posted by Joseph Stockdale (Equine America Caaharel) and Jack Whitaker (Equine America Valmy de la Lane), because pathfinder Harry Charles (Casquo Blue) and anchorman John Whitaker (Equine America Unick du Francport) were both foot-perfect.
But Stockdale was the only member of Di Lampard’s side to keep a clean sheet second time out when they were forced to add eight faults to their scoreline for a final tally of 12. And The Netherlands’ Jack Ansems (Fliere Fluiter), Sanne Thijssen (Con Quidam RB), Jur Vrieling (Long John Silver), and Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Dante) overtook them for runner-up spot when finishing on the same score but in a quicker time.
Team Germany finished fourth on 16 faults, Belgium finished fifth ahead of Brazil with a faster 20-fault result, Norway racked up 24 for seventh spot, and Austria finished eighth and last on a total of 28.
It came right down to the last rider into the ring to decide the result, all the pressure piling onto the capable shoulders of the legendary John Whitaker who could force a jump-off with the eventual winners if he could steer a second clear course over Gerard Lachat’s 12-fence track. Both Harry Charles and his nephew Jack Whitaker had collected four faults apiece this time out, but if Uncle John could add another zero to Stockdale’s clear, then it would go to a third-round head-to-head to decide the result.
It was looking really good until Unick du Francport clipped the middle element of the triple combination, leaving the cool, calm Swiss clear winners, adding nothing more to their first-round scoreline.
They were favourites from the outset, and the double-clear posted by pathfinders Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei proved pivotal. The Swiss star, who turns 30 next month and who recently added the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ title to the individual European gold medal he bagged last September, produced two spectacular rounds, while team-mate, 20-year-old Edouard Schmitz, followed a first-round mistake with Quon at the first element of the double at fence four with a brilliant run at their second attempt.
Pius Schwizer was looking foot-perfect until lowering the final two fences in round one, but produced a copybook second effort with Vancouver de Lanlore. The enthusiastic spectators gasped in disbelief when Swiss anchor Steve Guerdat made it all the way to the last with Venard du Cerisy in round one only for that to fall, and as it happened, the 2012 Olympic champion didn’t need to jump again because the job was done and dusted.
There was a real sense of history-making and Fuchs was delighted to be part of it. “Whenever I was on the team in St Gallen we never won, but we said this year now we have to win, and finally we did it!
“We were confident because Edoaurd’s horse jumped really well and Pius’ horse too, and we changed his plan for the second round to put an extra stride in the last line. And Steve had one rail at the last fence, so we all thought he would deliver in the second round, but in the end, he didn’t need to go,” he explained.
Lachat’s course certainly played its part, the line from fences six to eight proving particularly influential. “After the water jump (fence 6), there was the plank and then a short five strides to a liverpool oxer – you needed good rideability and a careful horse, and you needed scope for the oxer, so this kind of asked everything of the horse and rider,” he pointed out.
It was a big moment posting this historic result in front of the home crowd.
“We knew we had a strong team as we were already good in the Grand Prix. I think the crowd knew that as well and they really cheered for us this afternoon. This is an amazing feeling. I felt my horse was super today and I’m happy we could contribute to this home win!” Fuchs added, while Schmitz said, “I will never forget this day!”
Guerdat was quietly happy with the result too. “I’m now a little older, so my fault at the last fence in the first round bothered me a little less than it used to! In the Nations Cup at the end, it is the team result that counts and it worked out today. It has been a great show, with great public, perfect organisation, and very nice courses from Gerard. We will have nice memories from this weekend for sure!” he said.
Swiss Chef d’Equipe Michel Sorg also had plenty to be happy about. “Edouard was already good in the Grand Prix at La Baule a few weeks ago and again here on Saturday – I am really happy that he confirmed that here today and I’m really proud of all my team!” he said.
by Louise Parkes
Manager, Media Relations & Media Operations
+41 78 750 61 46