"Well done girls!" Karim Laghouag's congratulations to the four English riders a few minutes after the end of the 36th FEI European Eventing Championships summed up the feeling shared by all the players and spectators over four days of top-class competition. The team heralded as an eventing 'Dream Team' lived up to its billing. They were almost unbeatable. At the end of the show jumping, the final test of this equestrian triathlon, Great Britain, in the lead from the dressage phase onwards, won its 24th team title since the creation of the Championship in 1953 and its 15th in the last 20 editions.
Only Germany on four occasions and Sweden in 1993 have managed to break the British hegemony over the last two decades. Only a cataclysm on the track could have deprived the four Englishwomen (Kitty King, Yasmin Ingham, Laura Collett, Rosalind Canter) of this new title. "It's fantastic to be at the head of this team" says Richard Waygood, head of the British team. "There are the riders, but also all the people around us without whom nothing would be possible, especially the owners. A lot of people will see us as favourites for the Olympic Games. I hope they're right. But we're going to keep working. Our mentality is to always give 100%. And if that's the case, then we'll be able to look each other in the eye, and that's what we'll do."
World champions less than a year ago in Pratoni del Vivaro (Italy), Germany had to be content with silver this time. Just like two years ago, but this time with a gap of almost thirty points. Huge. "We're delighted with this silver medal," reassured Jens Adolphsen, the German team leader, who was without his two-time Olympic champion Michael Jung, eliminated the previous day after a fall that wasn't serious on the cross-country. "Some competitions are successful, others more difficult, that's sport. After the Tokyo Olympics (British victory), it was said that Great Britain would be favourites for the next 15 years. We'll be trying to change that in Paris next year."
Admittedly, France will have to wait a little longer to win their first European title. But it can nevertheless be very satisfied with its bronze medal, the 23rd continental medal (18th in the team competition), less than a point behind Germany. "I'm very proud of my four riders, confided team leader Thierry Touzaint. To see four of them in the top 10 was unhoped-for. I'd like to thank all the owners and everyone behind us. With a year to go to the Games, we can still see all the work that still needs to be done, particularly in the dressage. But we're confident. We won a medal in Rio, another in Tokyo, and we're counting on winning one in Paris."
Belgium and the Netherlands will also be taking part in this major rendezvous, having secured both tickets in Normandy. These two nations join France (host country), Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Poland, who have already qualified in previous competitions (the United States, New Zealand, Australia and China have also qualified).
A British individual double
In the individual competition, where the three team medallists all shared top 10 places, Great Britain also proved untouchable. In gold, Rosalind Canter, riding the formidable Lordships Graffalo, succeeded her compatriot Nicola Wilson. At the age of 37, the current world number 3 adds another line to a list of achievements that already includes an Olympic team title in 2021 and two world golds (individual and team) in 2018. "I'm very happy and lucky to have this horse in my stables, comments the new champion. I'm very proud of him and of our championship. Now I'm going to enjoy it. I'd also like to thank the organisers, who put on a superb championship, including a fantastic cross-country course in difficult conditions on Saturday. The horses were happy too. There's now less than a year to go before the Olympic Games. I'm going to keep working and do everything I can to perform as well as possible in Paris."
In silver, Kitty King followed in the footsteps of her mother Mary, who also finished second on the podium in 2007. "I came here first and foremost to be the opener and do my job well, because there are some fantastic horses in the team, she commented. So I'm delighted with this medal with Vendredi Biats, who is incredible, especially as Rosalind really deserves her win."
World champion in 2014, back at the Haras du Pin, Germany's Sandra Auffarth once again tasted the joys of the podium with bronze. Having started in penultimate position with the obligation to make a clear round to guarantee her team silver, the rider, last year's world team champion, once again coped perfectly with the pressure. "I always ride better when I'm under pressure, explained Auffarth. My horse jumps very well and made the work easy for me. It's a great satisfaction to have won this individual bronze medal, but also to have managed to keep the silver for my team." Four female riders in team gold, three again on the three steps of the individual podium, so many pretenders to become Queen of the eventing, in one year's time at the Château de Versailles!