Offel a Ukrainian Surprise!

By March 19, 2012
Ukrainian rider Katharina Offel hoists her trophy above her head.

Katharina Offel was the surprise winner of the Grand Prix Hermes.

The dark horse rode to victory at the $263,380 Grand Prix Hermès Sunday, March 18, at the Grand Palais in Paris, with 35-year-old Ukrainian rider Katharina Offel beating such top competitors as Germany’s Christian Ahlmann, who came in second, Ireland’s Bill Twomey (third), Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum (fourth) and Gerco Schroeder of the Netherlands (fifth).

“This is the most wonderful victory in my career!,” Offel shared after the event,  a 1.60m CSI5* that capped the three-day Saut  Hermès  show. The German-born rider, who now competes on behalf of the Ukraine, is the first woman to win the show’s top prize, which meant a first-place check for nearly $87,000.

Her winning mount was the 10-year-old bay mare Cathleen 28. Earlier in the day, riding the gray Westphalian gelding Charlie, Offel came in second (to Twomey) in the 1.45m CSI5* Prix de la Ville Paris earlier in the day, good for another $6,000.

Offel , who was born and continues to live in Cologne, took advantage of an opportunity to change nationality in 2005, seeing it as a means to greater opportunity, including invitations to major competitions such as the Saut Hermès.

In Germany, there is fierce competition to make the national team alongside the Beerbaums, Kutschers, Ehnings and Ahlmanns. Indeed, Ahlmann believed he could go for the double today, repeating his 2011 victory at the Grand Palais. His horse, Taloubet Z, was “even stronger than a year ago,” he confided prior to the event. “I hope he will keep this great form until summer,” he said, an allusion to the Olympics in London. However, it was the young Katharina ― also dreaming of Olympic heights, having qualified individually ― who owned the day Sunday.

She showed she was the boldest by going for the thirty-nine hundredths-of-a-second that made the difference: “I have been riding Cathleen for three years and am getting to know her really well. She finished second in the World Cup [qualifier] in Lyon last November, and after that she had a dip in form and I rested her at the end of the year after the [CSI-W] in Mechelen, Belgium. This is her first major competition after her outing in Dortmund last week; I think I have managed her program well. I love the Saut Hermès at the Grand Palais. It’s really an exceptional place.” After this achievement, Katharina has only one thing in mind: “to get back home as quickly as possible and give my son a big hug. That will be my way of celebrating this win.” All in all, a very wise lady!

While Offel was the big winner, she and Twomey weren’t the only winners of the day. The German duo of Patrick Stühlmeyer and Jan Wernke won the Les Talent Hermès final, a team competition for riders under 25, who were paired by nation.

Young German riders Patrick Stühlmeyer (left) and Jan Wernke pose casually.

Germany's Patrick Stühlmeyer (left) and Jan Wernke

Their victory was almost a foregone conclusion, despite fierce competition from Alexander Butler and Alex Duffy, the young Irish riders who came in second.

Stühlmeyerand Wernke have known each other “since kindergarten,” joked the latter. They grew up together on the same competition grounds and two years ago, during the European Junior Championships, found themselves in the same position as today.

To win the class, the last rider out had to jump a clear round and go fast: “At the time, Patrick was in my position,” remembers Jan. “He was actually faster, but made a mistake and so we lost our title to Sweden. Here, we said to ourselves, “Oh no! Not again!” But everything turned out well.” Sunday at the Grand Palais Wernke took responsibility for “being the last out,” and therefore faced the pressure of having to do a final fast, clear round.

Last week, Wernke finished second in the esteemed Dortmund Grand Prix, behind Ludger Beerbaum, while Stühlmeyer took fifth. Wernke was therefore able to shoulder the pressure of jumping the round with a certain fluidity and outpaced the Irish riders by just forty-two-hundredths of a second; not much, but enough!

The win was also a victory for Marco Kutscher, their official coach at the Grand Palais, and Marcus Ehning, a background advisor. Both veterans were highly committed to the cause of taking under their wing the next generation of high-performance German rider.  Indeed, there was a certain buzz in the paddock around the youngsters.

In Germany, succession is not an empty word. “It was fun to help them and to follow this class,” Kutscher admitted. “These two are already pretty experienced and have proven themselves in important Grands Prix. They already have a very professional approach to the sport and know exactly what they have to do.”

Ehning contributed by monitoring the times and providing a flow of information. Kutscher in the paddock providing technical advice and Ehning at the entry for strategic advice might have been just the edge they needed to assure victory. These two will certainly form part of our future elite,” Kutscher said. And that, after all, is exactly what Les Talent Hermès is all about.

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