Israel and Poland set themselves apart from a large field of Olympic hopefuls Friday in Prague (CZE), topping the Group C Designated Olympic Qualifier at the CSIO4* CET Prague Cup.
Led by Chef d'Equipe Hans Horn, the four-rider squad of Ashlee Bond (Donatello 141), Isabella Russekoff (C Vier 2), Robin Muhr (Galaxy HM) and Daniel Bluman (Ladriano Z) finished on a total score of 9 faults, punching their tickets to next year's Paris Games (FRA).
In a repeat of the last Group C qualifier held ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games (JPN) in 2019, Poland finished second (18 faults) to secure the second of two available quota places at the event. Hungary just missed out on Olympic qualification in the 10-strong field, finishing third with 27 faults.
"It's a team that really cares for each other and pushes each other to perform their best. I think that's the most important part about us...We don't have many riders, so when we do get together, we are all pushing the same direction. Everyone counted today. Everyone had a score that was important for the team result."
-Daniel Bluman (ISR)
The year 2019 marked the first time Israel had ever qualified a jumping team for an Olympic Games. Four years later, the team has firmly established itself as a contender. Friday in Prague, veteran team members Bond and Bluman bookended the squad, and each athlete produced a clear round over Uliano Vezzani's (ITA) 1.60m course.
The conclusion of the first round brought with it heightened tensions, as Israel, Hungary and Poland were separated by just two faults. But Israel pulled ahead in Round 2, adding just five faults to its scorecard. Bond jumped double-clear with her veteran partner, the spectacular 12-year-old Donatello. Then Russekoff—the youngest team member at just 23 years old—was clear over the jumps, adding just a single penalty to her team's scorecard.
"I have only been riding my horse for a couple of months, but he's so experienced, and he tries his hardest for me. It's nice to go into the ring and know that he's really experienced and he can take care of me."
Isabella Russekoff (ISR)
Poland found consistency in the second round to move up to second, but they couldn’t quite keep pace with the winners. Each of the group of Adam Grzegorzewski (Issem), Maksymilian Wechta (Chepettano), Przemyslaw Konopacki (Home-Run) and Wojciech Wojcianiec (Chintablue) had a rail in the second round, adding 12 faults to their score. It was enough, though to keep Hungary at bay. After producing clear rounds in the first round, Hungary's Gábor Szabó Jr. (Mezohegyes Chabala) and András Jun. Kövy (E-UP) lowered three fences in Round 2; the team added 22 faults in the round.
"[There were] really good rounds [in the second round], but there was still [one mistake for each rider]. At the end, we had 12 faults, and that's getting a little bit too close to the other team, and that made it really exciting," said Poland Chef d'Equipe Jan Vinckier. "But at the end, we could say all the horses were super, and the riders did a great job.
"This was the target for the last year and a half, and we made it," he added. "Amazing."
Olympic qualification continues at the FEI Jumping European Championship in Milano (ITA), 29 Aug - 03 Sept 2023.
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