The FEI World Vaulting Championships 2012, which were held in the horse sport centre Boulerie Jump in Le Mans, France (15-19 August) attracted a field of more than 150 athletes, 50 lungers and 56 horses from 17 nations. The Championships saw vaulters compete over five demanding days for squad and individual titles (male and female), as well as the top spot for the Pas-de-Deux, which was introduced for the first time this year in a World Championship.
The excitement was high-octane in the Le Mans arena on the final day of the Championships as two squads had a realistic chance of winning the title: Voltige Lütisburg from Switzerland and Germany’s RSV Neuss-Grimlinghausen squad. After scoring 7.77 for an amazing performance in the compulsory, the Swiss squad – coached and lunged by Monika Winkler-Bischofberger – had established a comfortable lead of nearly 0.2 points. After the two following freestyle rounds they cantered to victory on their horse Will Be Good.
The win put an end to an 18-year drought on the world stage. It was the first Swiss victory at the World Championships since 1994, when they won gold at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in The Hague (NED), although they did claim the European title at the 2001 Championships in Poznan, (POL).
The final results were a great surprise for Winkler-Bischofberger, a member of the 1994 Swiss-squad, and for German coach and lunger Jessica Schmitz, also a former German squad member. The pair have been good friends for many years.
“Our horse was amazing. All my vaulters were ready for that challenge,” Winkler-Bischofberger said with tears in her eyes after the prize giving ceremony. Since 2009 her squad from the Swiss canton of St Gallen has been a favourite at the Championships, but never reached the one big goal to collect gold. “We have improved a lot the last years and I think we deserved this title,” the 36-year-old coach said.
The first freestyle was won by Germany by a narrow margin, but in the final round the eventual gold medallists Lütisburg scored slightly higher for their choreography. On average both squads had nearly the same results in freestyle. Helma Schwarzmann (GER), one of the eight judges, was impressed by both squads: “These two squads have totally different styles, but they are nearly at the same high level. Lütisburg is more athletic, Neuss more artistic. The difference was in the basics of the compulsory,” she said.
Switzerland’s winning total was 8,424. Germany secured silver on Arkansas with 8,346 points and host country France secured bronze with 8,006 points on Watriano, lunged by Fabrice Holzberger.
Fourth Title in a Row
In the female competition Britain’s Joanne Eccles was in a class of her own. The only time the British title defender wasn’t in the top spot was in the compulsory test at the start of the Championships. Both freestyle rounds and also the technical test were dominated by the 23-year old Scot, who showed a fantastic high level routine accompanied by the Enigma song “Turnaround”. Eccles has been unbeaten since April 2010. With her fourth title in a row she is now level with Germany’s Tanja Benedetto who was the top female vaulter at all championships between 1994 and 1997. Only two ladies in vaulting history – Nadia Zülow (GER/6) and Silke Bernhard (GER/5) – have collected more titles.
Eccles, a recently qualified dentist, was thrilled with her success. “Some years ago my aim was to win a medal. Now I’ve been able to stay at the top for four years”, she said. On her 18-year-old W H Bentley, lunged by her father John Eccles, she will be bidding to stay at the top of her sport for some time to come.
And it seems highly likely that she will do exactly that. In Le Mans she won with 8,499 points, well clear of her nearest rivals. Silver medallist Rikke Laumann from Denmark scored 8,179 on Ghost Alfarvad Z (lunger: Lasse Kristensen), while bronze went to Germany’s Sarah Kay with 8,078 points on Calvador (Andreas Bäßler).
A sublime moment occurred in the first freestyle round when Austria’s 17-year-old Lisa Wild surprised the audience with an acrobatic element never before seen in competition. She did a backflip off the horse’s back and then landed back on the horse. The judges rewarded her with second place for her incredible routine, but unfortunately she was injured when she fell off the horse in the final and was not able to end the freestyle as planned.
Favourite for the Title
The male competition developed into a tussle between the French local hero Nicolas Andreani (FRA) and Erik Oese (GER). Oese, a new shining star on his Championship debut, won the third round technical test by 0,2 points and had the chance to beat the 2009 European Champion and favourite for the World title. But freestyle specialist Andreani had absolutely no weak points in his last routine to earn 9,089 points – the highest score of the whole Championship – to claim his first World title.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet”, he said, directly after the score was shown on the screen. The 28-year-old said it was like a home game for him. “It seemed to be the French Championship as I ran into the circle.”
The 2012 title was a big goal for Andreani, but certainly not his last one. He plans to defend it in 2014 at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandie. In Le Mans he had to change to the horse Just A Kiss, because his regular partner Idefix de Braize was injured. In 2014 he wants to compete on Idefix, which is his own horse. “To become world champion together with him, that is my big aim,” he said.
Andreani scored 8,515 points, followed by Oese on Calvador (lunger: Andreas Bäßler) with 8,415. “It has been a fantastic Championship for me. I felt so confident during my freestyle. Unbelievable,” the 24-year-old Oese said. Third place also went to France with 8,199 for Ivan Nousse on Carlos (Elke Shelp Lensing).
Austria’s Lukas Wacha was unlucky to finish just out of the individual medals in fourth place a mere 0.06 points behind Nousse, but the 25-year-old vaulter had reason to celebrate when clinching gold in the Pas-de-Deux.
Lukas and his 17-year-old team mate Jasmin Lindner made history as the first FEI World Vaulting Champions in this new discipline with two nearly perfect rounds, finishing with a point score of 8.775 on Elliot, lunged by Klaus Haidacher. And it was a historic win for Austria too as it was the country’s first World title in vaulting.
Great Britain’s Joanne and Hannah Eccles secured silver with 8,556 points on W H Bentley, again lunged by their father John Eccles, and bronze went to Megan Benjamin and Blake Dahlgren from the United States of America, who were competing on Jarl (lunger: Lasse Kristensen).
Full results for the FEI World Vaulting Championships 2012 can be viewed here.