Eccles, Looser vault to top of the WorldBy Louise Parkes February 6, 2012
The first official FEI World Cup Vaulting season came to a close Feb. 5 with emotions running high, as Switzerland’s Patric Looser captured the male title, and Great Britain’s Joanne Eccles took top female honors in Bordeaux, France.
Qualifiers were held at five venues over the winter months, and today’s closing stages saw the top competitors vie for the world title. Looser was determined to produce a better result than he did in yesterday’s first round. “I’m going to try to enjoy every second of my Freestyle today” he said before the competition began. “Yesterday was not my best performance ― I was a bit stiff in my body, although I didn’t make any mistakes. I’m in first position by a good distance as the competition begins today and I intend to be more relaxed and just enjoy my routine and my horse!” he explained.
He succeeded in doing just that, adding this new title to the one he earned at the Final in Leipzig, Germany last April and to his career-defining gold medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010 and last year’s FEI European Championships.
Eccles performance was also exemplary, her elegance of movement perfectly accentuated by the family horse, WH Bentley, who was lunged by her father, John.
Both Joanne, and her sister Hannah, who also competed, are students at Glasgow University in Scotland and divide their time between study and training for their sport.
A total of six athlete, horse and longeur teams lined out in each of the two Finals, and the tension was palpable as the female division got underway with Switzerland’s Simone Jaiser and her horse, Luk, posting an overall aggregate score of 7.870. Italy’s Anna Cavallaro stumbled backwards on dismount, but still pleased the judges for a mark of 7.990 with Harley, while Germany’s Sarah Kay, winner at the qualifier in Kiel, Germany last October, had to make a hasty conclusion to her 60-second routine when also partnering Luk, but maintained fourth place when putting 8.040 on the scoreboard.
Hannah Eccles was next into the arena with Bentley, and, as older sister Joanne said afterwards, she certainly wasn’t overwhelmed when stepping into the limelight. “She got through to the Final due to the injury of another girl ― she thought her season was finished before Christmas so she came here totally relaxed and not expecting too much, and she has loved every minute of it!” With consummate ease, 20-year-old Hannah demonstrated great artistic flow for a score of 8.227, and that really piled the pressure on the final two.
Sole French contender, Anne-Sophie Musset Agnus, was partnering a new horse, Harley, and their lack of familiarity with each other resulted in them finishing their routine after their music had stopped. With an aggregate score of 8.214 they dropped behind Hannah Eccles, and now the question was whether Joanne could keep her younger sister in check.
The 23-year-old was a sensation at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games two years ago. Although she missed last year’s FEI World Cup Vaulting Final in Germany Joanne won her second consecutive European title at Le Mans, France last summer with another tremendous performance. Stepping out in the marionette-style costume which complements her musical score from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, she presented a charming picture from the outset. And as her program built to a crescendo there was no doubt where the 2011/2012 title was going as she exceeded the previous day’s high score of 8.827 when posting 8.837 this time out.
She was quick to share the secret of her success – the gentle giant Bentley. “My own success and Hannah’s too, none of it would have happened without him!” she insisted. “He’s as steady as a rock and so trustworthy,” added Eccles, a dentistry student who will graduate this summer.
Looser too was keen to point out that much of what he has achieved is due to his great partner, the former dressage horse Record RS von der Wlintermuhle who, like the vaulter on his back, stood under the spotlight for the final time today. “We are retiring together,” said Looser, only seven years older than the 20-year-old stallion. “I always wanted that both of us would retire in good condition and in great form. He’s a really special horse ― the best in the sport.”
Remy Hombecq from France led the way in the Male Final with a score of 7.330 that may have been influenced by the edginess of his new horse, Whisper. And 18-year-old Swiss vaulter Lukas Heppler showed real promise, following with an impressive routine that was enhanced by his horse Waimer, owned by the Swiss army. Their score of 7.984 was quickly bettered by another Frenchman, Ivan Nousse, whose tilt at the title was seriously undermined by a fall in yesterday’s first round. But Nousse bounced back with a vengeance despite some still-nervous signals from Whisper, finishing with a flourish with an average score of 8.230.
Lukas Kouda from the Czech Republic and Germany’s Viktor Brusewitz went back-to-back with the horse Harry Potter RS Von Der Wintermuhle, with Klouda earning a final mark of 8.034 and Brusewitz finishing with 8.044.
As Looser entered the ring he might have been forgiven for some last-minute tension, but it simply wasn’t to be seen. Record confidently swished his tail before his long-time friend grabbed the grips and vaulted onboard for one last display to the sound of Coldplay’s “Nobody Said It Was Easy.” In fact they made it look elementary indeed as they swaggered to victory with an overall mark of 8.817.
Based in Cologne, Germany for the last seven years “because Germany is the biggest horse nation in the world and has the best vaulters,” according to the champion, Looser has balanced his management job for a recycling company with his vaulting career. “I’m very lucky, because the owner of my horse is also my boss so he understands when I need to take some time off!”
In retirement he plans to remain involved in the sport as a coach. He already has 110 young people under his wing at his base in Cologne, so the future of vaulting is looking very good indeed.
The sport has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years, and stars like Looser and Eccles have attracted a new generation of fans. Looser said today that there are better acrobats than he in the sport, but that his winning formula was always due to the relationship he has enjoyed with his horses, especially Record. “I started riding when I was eight years old, and I am looking forward to encouraging many more young people to get involved in vaulting in the future and enjoying themselves with their horses. That is what this sport is all about.”
Male Final – 1, Patric Looser (Record RS Von Der Wintermuehle) SUI 8.817; 2, Ivan Nousse (Whisper) FRA 8.230; 3, Viktor Brusewitz (Harry Potter RS Von der Wintermuehle) GER 8.044; 4, Lukas Klouda (Harry Potter RS Von der Wintermuehle) CZE 8.034; 5, Lukas Heppler (Waimar CH) SUI 7.984; 6, Remy Hombecq (Whisper) FRA 7.330.
Female Final - 1, Joanne Eccles (WH Bentley) GBR 8.837; 2, Hannah Eccles (WH Bentley) GBR 8.227; 3, Anne-Sophie Musset Agnus (Harley) FRA 8.214; 4, Sarah Kay (Luk) GER 8.040; 5, Anna Cavallaro (Harley) ITA 7.990; 6, Simone Jaiser (Luk) SUI 7.870.
For more information on the FEI World Cup Vaulting Finals, visit www.jumping-bordeaux.com.
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