Last Friday night they helped Team Sweden to victory in the Team event, and today Henrik von Eckermann and his brilliant chestnut gelding King Edward added Individual gold to their haul of loot with another extraordinary performance at the Agria FEI Jumping World Championship 2022 in Herning, Denmark.
The dynamic duo were under the ultimate pressure, out in front on the final day with two rounds of jumping still to do and less than a fence separating them from the four combinations chasing them on the Individual leaderboard.
But this is a horse whose belief in himself and in his rider is second to none. The pair never dropped a pole on the way to helping clinch the Olympic Team title in Tokyo last summer. And this week they did it all again, flawless from start to finish.
Belgium’s Jérôme Guery took the Individual silver medal and The Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten claimed the bronze.
A total of 21 combinations tackled the first round and 14 jumped clear, but it was a very different story second time out. Course designer, Dutchman Louis Konickx, explained his thinking about how to let a champion shine. “The first course was fluent and big enough but not too complicated. For the second round we built it up and it was more technical. The time (87 seconds) was short. It was great to see King Edward win, he was clear every day and he has so much scope. I think we have seen wonderful sport!”, he said.
Just 12 came back in the second round and this time only four left all the poles in place. Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Stargold kept themselves in the running with a clear when first into the ring this time out, but another five faulted before van der Vleuten and his individual Olympic bronze medal winning ride Beauville Z NOP followed suit.
Lying fifth in the closing stages, Great Britain’s Ben Maher dropped out of contention when Faltic HB clipped the 1.65m vertical at fence seven, and when Austria’s Max Kuhner and Elektric Blue P kicked out the second element of the spooky water-tray double at fence ten, and added two time faults, there were only three left to go and van der Vleuten was moving rapidly up the scoreboard.
Lying in bronze medal spot Belgium’s Jerome Guery and Quel Homme de Hus didn’t buckle under the pressure however, and when the 16-year-old stallion and his 42-year-old rider raced through the finish there were already ecstatic scenes in the Kiss and Cry because the pair were now definitely destined for a place on the podium.
Second-last to go however, von Eckermann’s team-mate Jens Fredricson saw silver slip from his grasp when Markan Cosmopolit left three fences on the floor and the only question now left was whether von Eckermann could hold his nerve. He said this evening that he was very grateful to the many Swedish supporters for not going wild when he entered the ring because King Edward is such a sensitive horse.
And setting off with complete focus the pair delivered a copybook tour of this final 12-fence track to put the result beyond doubt. He could hardly believe he had precious gold in his grasp. In the 69-year history of the Jumping World Championship no Swedish rider had ever taken an Individual medal, and to make the first one a golden one was all the more special.
Talking about King Edward, he said, “he has jumped so many clear rounds and done so many good things, it’s just a privilege to ride him. I knew Jerome was clear so I could have no mistakes….I had a really good feeling from the first round so that gave me confidence and the horse felt as fresh as he was the first day.
I knew before I went in a fence down can happen so easily, but if I ride well and have a fault I can live with it. But I didn’t want to go in there and not go by my plan, so I stuck to it and it worked!”, said the 41-year-old Swede.
Van der Vleuten jumped clear on the first two days of competition this week but dropped from seventh to ninth place with a mistake on Friday. “So I tried to keep my focus, I knew Beauville was in the right shape to do it, and I tried to believe in it and follow my own plan. I knew I needed two clear rounds today, but King Edward is unbeatable at the moment, he’s on a whole other level and all credit to Henrik to make it come true and to Jerome too!”, he said this evening.
Meanwhile Guery reflected on his silver medal. “It’s like a victory for us, not only for me but all my team and supporters, my owner, my country and of course for my horse - he deserves this medal! He’s been so good for the last three years and in Tokyo he was amazing. When I ride him well he always does the job, when you are here it’s not just because you are a good rider, it’s because you have a fantastic horse! I’m so lucky to have the chance to ride him”, he said with emotion in his voice.
That is because he owes so much to his friend and the horse’s former rider, Gaetan Decroix, who gave Jérôme the opportunity to compete the stallion when he became ill some years ago. The new partnership simply blossomed, and now both of Quel Homme’s riders share in the joy of his success.
Von Eckermann admitted he feels nervous before a big competition. ’It’s always the same with me, two hours before I’m really nervous, can’t eat or anything, but when I get up on my horse that turns somehow into focus and concentration and just trying to stay focused and to do the best round for my horse”, he explained.
And how does it feel to be the new world champion? It’s clearly taking some time to process that…
“For the moment I’m empty - you try to keep emotion pushed down so you can focus, and when it’s done it’s like pulling the plug out a bit. But it’s just happiness I think, and this is a day to remember!”, he said with a big smile.