They watched on as riders from 20 nations assembled to see who would challenge defending champion Beezie Madden of the USA for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ title.
With three combinations representing Sweden, would the home nation finally see a champion for the first time?
Santiago Varela Ullastres of Spain set a huge and daunting course, designed to challenge riders from Day 1, as they commenced with Table C jumping. While only three points were awarded for each rail down, the faults were added to the riders’ times, so clean rides were the goal, especially with scores being carried forward into the next two days of Jumping.
There were some options on the course when it came to turns, but every team had to face a spooky and fragile Longines wall, as well as obstacle combinations and tricky oxers.
Thursday’s event started with a disappointment for Beat Mändli of Switzerland, who became separated from his horse after a miscommunication at vertical No.11 and was eliminated.
Olivier clings on
Only third to ride, Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts was the first to go clear, and with his time of 61.43 seconds, maintained the lead well into the competition. Miraculously, Philippaerts held onto his seat after losing a stirrup in the latter part of the course, and his smooth, speedy finish was a testament to his partnership with his stunning 13-year-old gray mare, H&M Legend of Love.
Rider after rider tried to beat Philippaerts’ time, to no avail, although there were some beautiful clear rides from Martin Fuchs of Switzerland, Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski of Poland, Abdel Saïd of Egypt, and Christian Ahlmann of Germany.
Devos takes charge
It wasn’t until Pieter Devos of Belgium had his turn on the course that Philippaerts saw his time bested, as his countryman turned in a clear ride in 61.31 seconds, putting Belgium in the 1-2-3 positions, with Francois Mathy Jr. in third place.
Reigning champion Beezie Madden of the USA tried to top Devos, once again riding the amazing Breitling LS in a stadium gone utterly silent with anticipation. Madden turned in a beautiful ride until the very last rail, meaning 3 points had to be added to her time of 60.74 seconds, for a total of 63.74 seconds and an ultimate 10th place finish.