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The bar has already been set incredibly high in the first leg of the 2017/2018 FEI World Cup Vaulting series in Madrid, Spain.
Reigning champion in the women’s individual competition, Anna Cavallaro of Italy, has held onto her first place rank with a two-day combined score of 8.499.
The women’s competition began on a tight level with the top three ranked World Cup vaulters offering stellar performances.
Cavallaro, on the horse Monaco Franze, showed why she consistently turns in top scores with a difficult programme set to custom music.
Her flow from one movement into the next and her ability to finish every nuance to perfection gave her both high artistic and technical scores from the judges, while Monaco Franze’s steady, active canter lent a strong horse score to the total performance.
Boe, whose best FEI World Cup performance has been just behind the lead, would love to overtake rival Cavallaro for the current World Cup.
In Madrid, a slip on her dismount in the first programme knocked down her initial score, but her unique storytelling Star Wars-themed performance demonstrated precise movements executed in an athletic style and makes her a strong contender for the championship title.
Sylvia Stopazzini of Italy on Rosenstolz is another threat to the top two. Her third place finish in Madrid with a score of 8.106 showed why she is a top six finisher in all three vaulting events: individual, team, and pas de deux.
Stopazzini combined flexibility and strength in a performance that was at once athletic and expressive. Energy radiated from her fingers and toes as she attacked her Madrid programme with vigor.
Ilona Hannich of Switzerland, also on Hot Date Tek, finished in fourth place with a score of 8.010. Her haunting music and beautiful opening moves, combined with a controlled, difficult performance allowed her to best Manon Noel of France.
Noel on Rosenstolz did a magnificent job of covering the entire horse with her choreography, finishing in a handstand into her dismount for a score of 7.569.
In the men’s competition, the surprise of the day was Heppler of Switzerland, who bested Germany’s Heiland by a hair with a new Dr. Strange theme on Monaco Franze.
Even with an initial bit of disharmony with the horse, Heppler was able to finish on top, thanks to his challenging choreography and incredible height on his dismount.
Heiland, also on Monaco Franze, performed a War Horse-themed programme, full of equally difficult movements. His emotional performance highlighted his tremendous flexibility, as well as his strength and ability to work in concert with his horse.
Heiland’s rivalry with Heppler has certainly been taken up another notch after their respective showings in Madrid.
Coming in at third, Balazs Bence of Hungary on Hot Date Tek (sharing horses is a common practice in international vaulting) gave the crowd-pleasing performance of the day.
His old-time circus theme played to the audience, while his lanky frame seemed made for his cartwheel and tricky one-footed dismount; a fantastic showman utilizing every moment of his one minute, twenty seconds in the ring.
Francesco Bortoletto of Italy, on Rosenstolz, finished fourth with a score of 8.067, with high artistic scores for his dramatic interpretation of classical music. As a lunger for the Italian junior team, Bortoletto is gifted at working with his horse for a harmonious performance.
Two American vaulters rounded out the men’s competition, which will see the addition of Australia in subsequent legs. Kristian Roberts took a fifth place finish with a score of 7.466 on Dante, while countryman Daniel Janes, also on Dante, ended sixth with a score of 6.541.
Both Americans showed how tough the level of competition will be this season for the top-ranked vaulters. And with both men using Dante, who was slightly spooked at the start of Janes’s programme, the importance of veteran lungers like Nelson Vidoni, who managed to settle Dante, can’t be underestimated.
If Madrid is any indication, FEI World Cup Vaulting will see an exciting series, as gymnastic and equestrian skills are put to the test together in the five upcoming legs leading to the March finals in Dortmund, Germany.