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In one of the closest finishes in recent history, the Netherlands claimed their fourth successive Longines FEI European Driving Championship team gold after a captivating final day of competition in Gothenburg.
Driven on by their irrepressible individual gold medallist Ijsbrand Chardon, the Dutch just about maintained their air of invincibility but boy did they have to work for it.
Spurred on by consultant trainer and world number one Boyd Exell, the Germans came hard at the men in orange through the cones test but with both individual bronze medallist Christoph Sandmann and Georg von Stein picking up late time penalties, they fell just short.
“We fought hard for this, six points is not a lot. They were very close,” said team gold medallist Koos de Ronde. Compatriot Chardon was quick to add: “Boyd is very clever, he certainly made their team better.”
“Team Belgium is ready to challenge now,” said Edouard Simonet, who maintained his excellent form to claim individual silver.
Ultimately, however, no one could quite steal the limelight from Chardon. Fresh from revelling in the “rock concert crowd” of marathon day, the 55 year old thrived in a full house at the Heden Arena.
“For me it helps, the bigger the pressure the better,” he said. “The horses were so good it was easy in the end.”
Indeed the Dutchman was clear enough of the field at the last obstacle to let out a yelp of delight, and start his celebrations, despite knocking a ball off.
“I was too happy, I am sorry!” he laughed.
Closest challenger Simonet reflected on a quandary facing many a top young sportsman.
“It’s good but there’s a little disappointment I did a little mistake yesterday on the marathon. But I am only 27 and the future is in front of me, I have many Championships to try and get the gold,” said the man who finished less than two points behind Chardon’s winning score of 150.37.
A further point back, Germany’s Sandmann exhorted the virtues of working with world champion Exell while acknowledging the relationship cannot last.
“Boyd is so professional, so thorough, everything is 1000%. We hope to keep him but next time we have the World Equestrian Games and then we will be fighting each other.”
As a contented crowd poured out of the Heden Arena, it was left to Exell, the biggest name in the sport, to deliver a final verdict on an extraordinary Championships.
“Yesterday was a stonking crowd, it was like a rock concert out there and a full house today,” said the Australian. “The nice thing was driving looked like the most popular of all the equestrian disciplines.”