Averill Saunders at the Burlington Capital FEI Vaulting World Cup Final 2023 in Omaha (USA) – FEI / Richard Juilliart
Excitement is building until the largest Vaulting Championships in history takes place in Flyinge (SWE). The FEI Vaulting European Championship will be held in combination with the FEI World Championship for Juniors and the premiere of the FEI World Championship for Young Vaulters. Hosting the three Championships is a challenge embraced by the Swedish hosts and much anticipated by the athletes and spectators, with 26 nations and 135 horses expected to present themselves to the Ground Jury.
The first medals will be awarded to the Senior athletes on Friday, 28 July. In the hotly contested Female class, Switzerland has a strong showing with Ilona Hannich, Danielle Bürgi, and Nadja Büttiker. Bürgi, who has had an excellent season showing her calibre on multiple horses, finished second at the FEI Vaulting World Cup™ in Omaha (USA) and the CVI3* in Bern (SUI), and won the CVI** Masterclass in Wiesbaden (GER). Büttiker has a wealth of experience and Hannich has significantly increased her level as evidenced by her fourth-place finish at the CHIO Aachen (GER) in June 2023.
Austria’s Eva Nagiller will be aiming for a podium finish, after a disappointing run at the FEI Vaulting World Championship in Herning (DEN) in 2022 due to her horse becoming unsettled.
It is a family affair for Germany, as each athlete will be lunged by their parent. Kathrin Meyer, winner of the FEI Vaulting World Cup™ in Omaha in 2023 and more recently champion of CHIO Aachen, has had an almost perfect season. She will start the event as the favourite and will be lunged by her mum Sonja. Much of her competition comes from 2022 FEI Vaulting World Championship silver medallist Julia Sophie Wagner, also lunged by her mother Katja, and Alina Ross, who is striving for her first senior medal alongside her father Volker.
The family theme continues with the Brüsewitz Brüder (Brüsewitz brothers) trio, the Male contingent from Germany, comprising Viktor, Thomas, and honorary brother Jannik Heiland. While they have a plethora of medals, a senior gold medal has been elusive.
The biggest title challenge comes from the youngest contender, Frenchman and current Vice-World Champion Quentin Jabet. The 20-year-old vaults with such precision and grace that he will be hard to beat. Fellow countryman Theo Gardies also has a unique style and ability worthy of championship glory. It is a narrow but strong field with multiple highly decorated athletes, which will make for a tight and exciting battle.
Vaulting aficionados will be looking to see if Germany can remain dominant in the sport despite filling only one of their two Pas-de-Deux spaces. Diana Harwardt and Peter Künne have the nation’s hopes on their shoulders. As silver medallists at the FEI Vaulting World Championships in Herning (DEN) in 2022, there is high expectations for them to pick up the torch passed from retired teammates 2022 FEI World Champions Chiara Congia and Justin van Gerven.
Bronze medallists at the 2022 FEI Vaulting World Championship, Rebecca Greggio and Davide Zanella, will endeavour to turn the tables and bring gold home for Italy. Both couples will face stiff competition from Switzerland and Austria. Ilona Hannich competing together with Li Laffer for Switzerland will be going after their first Championship bid, while Austrians Eva Nagiller and Romana Hintner will try to replicate or improve on their 2019 FEI European Championship bronze medal finish.
Germany’s Team Norka is on course to take the top step of the Squad podium again, and although they are in a different composition to the last few years, they have had a solid season. Their biggest rivals are the Swiss, whom they have defeated twice this year. The third podium step is where it might get interesting, as the lack of an Austrian entry throws the floor open. The Swedish have the home advantage and they have been working hard towards this goal for a long time. Nordic rivals, Denmark, has seen medal success in recent years and will ride that wave to aim for further glory. However, the Netherlands could ruin it for them both, as their squad has been quietly progressing and has an equal opportunity to steal the third position.
The final competition of the event will be the Official Team. One squad and two individuals from each country will combine to be crowned European Champions. Much like the Squad competition, and sadly due to the absence of a French and Austrian Squad, it looks to be a fight for the top between Germany and Switzerland. Germany has something to prove after missing out on an Official Team medal at the 2022 FEI World Championships, proving that even the best can falter under pressure. There will certainly be pressure for the Netherlands, Sweden, and 2022 vice-World Champions Denmark, as the podium lies tantalisingly close.
FEI Vaulting World Championship for Juniors
The FEI Vaulting World Championships for Juniors has an exceptional number of Female entries. A record fifty-six have declared, including Polina Shovkova and Kateryna Panasenko, Ukraine’s first representatives at a Vaulting Championship. They will take to the circle aboard Filon, lunged by Kevine Moneuse (FRA). Historically the World Junior Female title is reserved for Austria, and Clara Ludwiczek, Antonia Mayerhofer, and Katharina Feldhofer will try to keep up the tradition. Switzerland offers three strong contenders, Leonie Linsbichler, Mara Hofer, Noemi Licci, and the quality presented by Germany is just as high with Mia Kluge, Mirja Luise Krohne, and Laura Seemüller.
It is not only these heavyweight nations who hold Europe’s medal chances. Oceane Gehan brings high hopes for France, while Giorgia Varisco could claim her place in history for Italy. Nora Sandberg Müller is the top choice for the home nation. Of course, the title could head across the pond with Hannah Wildermuth (USA), who has had an excellent season but has not yet met the full might of European talent. The quality of participants is undoubtedly high, and success will go to those who manage the pressure of high-level competition, both mentally and physically. Of course, the calibre and composure of the horses and lungers may be the deciding factor.
Dutch Junior Male World Champion Sam dos Santos returns to defend his title after competing at the Senior Championship in Herning (DEN) in 2022. Since his victory at the FEI World Championships for Juniors in Le Mans (FRA) in 2021, he has proven himself at a level to take on and prevail over many of the top Senior Men. Triumph is not inevitable as there are other high-grade juniors out to take his title. The bronze medallist at the FEI Vaulting European Championship for Juniors in Kaposvar (HUN) in 2022, Arnee Heers, is the front runner for Germany, and his young teammate Lukas Heitmann might also manage a medal at his first major Championship. Synonymous with excellence in Male vaulting, France has two hopefuls: Baptiste Terrier and Louis Dumont. Each must show exceptional rounds if they are to win the class for France for the first time.
Out to make history for his country, Jakub Roguski could become the first decorated Polish vaulter. He finished sixth at the 2022 FEI European Championships for Juniors and has been producing quality performances this season. Other notable performers to look out for are Andrej Menhert of Slovakia and Switzerland’s Romain Simonet.
The Junior Pas-de-Deux class is the essence of girl power as every combination is a female partnership. As in the senior category, Germany has elected to only present one pair: Lisa Marie Wagner and Timea Bonekat. Austrians Anja Huber and Katharina Feldhofer could upgrade their 2022 European bronze medal but will have to fend off team-mates Sarah Victoria Köck and Clara Dick, as well as Italy’s Giorgia Varisco and Greta Gemignani, who are on course for a first Junior medal.
It is gratifying to see the increasing number of nations participating in the Championships. This year both Brazil and Canada will premiere a Junior Squad. Fierce competition awaits in the form of European Champions Switzerland. They will present the same 2022 victorious squad, albeit on a different horse – Lagrima. They too will have to stave off competition from formidable squads from Italy, Germany, and Austria.
FEI World Championship for Young Vaulters
The Young Vaulter class was established in 2022 to bridge the gap between Junior and Senior level. The format is mainly the same as the Senior competition although the athletes, aged 16-21, perform only three of the five obligatory exercises within their Technical Test. A hugely successful 2022 FEI European Championship in Kaposvar (HUN) has led to a positive uptake in participants, with the prize to become the maiden World Champion, an alluring prospect.
Joint favourites in the Female category are current European Champion from Germany Alice Layher, with her medal winning combination and Averill Saunders, who is on the hunt for Canada’s first Vaulting medal. Saunders has a strong chance of achieving that dream if she can control her mind and remain free of the heel injury which hampered the middle of her season. Switzerland’s Michelle Brügger and Alicia Bärtschi will be pushing their nation towards the top of the table, alongside 2022 Junior European Champion Anna Weidenauer (AUT), who has moved into the higher age bracket this year.
Determination and dedication come in the form of Caroline Morse (USA), who has flown over her own horse Grasshopper AF for the best chance of success. Desiring to be the one to bring home honours for her country, compatriot Melanie Ford has teamed up with a German combination San Felice Z and Christina Ender. The youngest competitor at 17 years old is Italy’s Giada Samiolo, not that you could tell from her string of good results this year. Alongside Giorgia Fanucci, either would be worthy to stand on the rostrum for Italy.
Ruben Delauney (FRA), the 2022 FEI Male European Champion for Young Vaulters, has now progressed into the Senior category which leaves the title space open. Inevitably, it will be Austria versus Germany in a tussle for the top. 2022 Silver and Bronze medallists, Philip Clement and Fabian Lipp, will try to better their results for Austria, while 2022 FEI Junior European Champion Bela Lehnen (GER) has been in superb form, and is joined by Philip Goroncy and Jonathon Geib, each looking for German glory.
It will be an action-packed week of Vaulting, with quality horses, incredible skills, and a rollercoaster of emotions. The culmination of years of preparation and teamwork, it all comes down to mental toughness, steadfast horses, and a little bit of luck. History will be made once again as we eagerly anticipate the crowning of new champions.
by Joanne Littlejohn