For only the second time in the long and distinguished history of Nations Cup Jumping at CSIO Rome, Team Belgium won through ahead of Germany today at Piazza di Siena. You couldn’t have asked for a more exciting finish to the first 5* Nations Cup to be staged in a very long time when it came down to a third-round jump-off against the clock between new German super-talent, Kendra Brinkop, and veteran Belgian team member Gregory Wathelet.
In the end experience won the day when 40-year-old Wathelet steered the 13-year-old grey stallion Nevados S through the timers in 36.01 seconds to seal it when last into the ring. But 26-year-old Brinkop has placed herself firmly centre-stage having piled all the pressure on him when leading the way in the final face-off with a brilliantly executed run from the 11-year-old mare Kastelle Memo that stopped the clock in 36.63 seconds.
Although there were no close spectators due to pandemic protocols, the public could watch all the action from a distance in the famous Piazza di Siena oval amphitheatre at the Villa Borghese public park, and they were treated to a thrilling competition.
A total of 12 nations lined out, and Brazil and France shared third place on a final score of eight faults, Team USA finished fifth on nine faults while Sweden slotted into sixth with 12. Only the top eight teams went through to the second round and it was the Czech Republic that came in seventh ahead of Mexico in eighth place at the end of the day. Ireland, Japan, Italy and Egypt lined up behind them in that order having failed to make the cut into round two.
It was already a tussle between the Belgians and Germans when they were the only teams to complete the first round on a zero score. Brazil, France, USA, Sweden, Czech Republic and Mexico all shared an eight-fault tally going into the second round and when Brazil and France added nothing more to their scorelines, and in each case without having to call on their fourth rider, then combined times gave the Brazilians the edge over their French counterparts. The Americans added just a single time fault to slot into fifth place.
The two leading countries each picked up four faults second time out. German pathfinders Marcus Ehning and Calanda, who posted a surprising eight faults in round one, reduced that to just four on their second tour of the track. But when Brinkop and Patrick Stuhlmeyer with Varihoka du Temple produced their second clears of the day then it looked like Germany might maintain a zero-penalty status. So there was a gasp of disbelief when last-line rider, David Will with C Vier 2, made it all the way to the final vertical of red planks only to fault there. Meanwhile the Belgians would suffer a similar fate.
There was a nervous moment when Olivier Philippaerts followed his first-round clear with three down with H&M Extra. But when Yves Vanderhasselt and Jeunesse, who produced their country’s only error in round one, got it all right this time and then Jerome Guery and Quel Homme de Hus produced a second clear it was left to Wathelet to clinch the result with a clear. And he looked all set to do just that until exactly the same fence, the final planks, came tumbling down.
Now it would go to a two-way decider against the clock, and the tension was intense.
Brinkop admitted this evening that she was really surprised to be chosen for the jump-off, “but Marcus (Ehning) told me that today was my day, and that after my first two rounds I was the natural choice!”, she said. And of course the man who is one of the most respected riders in the sport was absolutely right. Brinkop trained with Ehning for some time before taking up her current job at Stephex Stables in March 2019, and she demonstrated her blossoming talent with a brilliant third clear that set the target for her Belgian rival.
But Wathelet and Nevados S were on the Belgian team that won the FEI European Championship title in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in 2019 and also in the Belgian side that finished second at the FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain that year. The experienced pair simply carved a tighter course to settle the result beyond doubt when safely negotiating the track.
And there was a bit of family history being made today when Olivier Philippaerts lined up beside his team-mates in the prizegiving ceremony. Because his father, Ludo Philippaerts, and his twin brother, Nicola, were on that first-ever winning team for Belgium back in 2014 along with Niels Bruynseels and Constant van Paesschen. So now the whole family have their names engraved into the prestigious CSIO Rome Nations Cup Roll of Honour, something of a dream for every showjumping rider down many years.
Photo CONI / Simone Ferraro