FEI Meydan City Open European Endurance Championship
SPAIN's Maria Alvarez Ponton made endurance history by becoming the first rider to hold both World and European titles at the same time following a convincing win at the FEI Meydan City Open European Endurance Championship held over the weekend in Assisi, Italy.
Alvarez Ponton has now stood on the medal podium for three year's in succession. With her 13-year-old French-bred gelding Nobby - world champion under entirely different conditions in Malaysia in 2008 - she also took individual bronze at the FEI European Championships at Barocca D'Alva in Portugal in 2007.
She crossed the line at the end of yesterday's tough contest in the shadow of the magnificent Saint Francisco's Basilica in 8hrs:10mins: 58secs to complete at an average speed of 19.5km/hr.
The European individual silver medal went to Belgium's Rachel Jaumotte with Dikruhu (19.1km/hr) while France's Romain Laporte took individual bronze with Novisaad d'Aqui at an average speed of 18.7km/hr.
The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Bin Faisal Al Qasimi finished 10min behind Alvarez Ponton to take the Open European second place with Castlebar Sobia adding to his own recent silver medal winning success at the FEI World Championships for Juniors and Young Riders held in Hungary.
Rachel Jaumotte took the third place in the Open European section.
Fifth-placed Germany's Sabrina Arnold's Beau 36 was awarded the coveted best condition award.
In the European team competition, Alverez Ponton's success contributed to a gold medal win for her country, the sole team from 15 European team entries with four finishers, Alverez Ponton, Silvia Yebra Altimiras, Robert Diez Noguera and Anna Maria Yebra Altamira. The best Spanish three completed in a time of 26hr37min44sec.
Portugal took second place and silver medal in the European contest with three completions for Joao Raposo, Filipe Cacheirinha and Patricio Quaresma in a time of 30:07:35.
No further teams completed the European Team section and so the Bronze Team Medals was not presented.
Team captain and President of the Bahrain Olympic Committee Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa spearheaded the Bahrain challenge in the open team section of the event.
The Bahrain team of HH Sh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa; Mahmood Raed; Mohammed Al Saad Abdulrahman and Ghazi Mohd Al Doseri finished second with their best three having a total ride time of 26:48:31. Sheikh Nasser was seventh overall in the open individual section.
The other placings in the Open Team section were Spain 1st and Portugal 3rd.
The ‘more traditional' and extremely challenging Endurance Course caused some problems for many of the teams and individual riders.
Of the field of 98 starters which began the six-loop 160km contest in darkness at 5.00am there were just 23 combinations that successfully qualified for all of the phases of the competition - a lower completion rate than recent averages at FEI championship level.
After following French rider Caroline Denayer into vetgate one at the end of the opening 35km section, Alvarez Ponton took the lead over the second loop holding her position over the toughest third section. Nobby, who is trained in Dubai by Alvarez Ponton's husband Jaume Punti Dachs got stronger through the ride reaching a top speed in excess of 27km/hr over the penultimate fifth loop. Nobby also maintained the edge with quickfire veterinary presentation times - until the fifth vetgate these were all under two minutes, only rivalled by the second placed Castlebar Sobia.
There was disappointment for Italy after the elimination of Enrico Ercoli at the preliminary vetting. Two team riders, Melania Serioli and Alessandra Brunelli, went out at the end of the third loop, leaving the hosts to be contented with three individual placings, for Simona Garatti (24th), Martina Lui (26th) and Jacopo Di Matteo (29th). If Di Matteo had been competing as part of the team rather than as an individual, a team medal placing would have been on the cards.
His Majesty Tuanku Al Sultan Mahmud of Malaysia was among those to fall foul of the tough terrain over the third loop where he made his exit before the vetgate.
Outgoing European Champion Jean Philippe Frances also went out at this stage, while Virginie Atger, another French medal hopeful was among several riders to experience the anguish of failing at the final vetting.
Gianluca Laliscia, President of the Organising Committee said the event sponsored by Meydan City, had provided a spectacle combining art, culture and sport - the FEI European Championship was the climax of a ten day festival Assisi Endurance Lifestyle held at the specially created Misura Village: "We are delighted to say that having worked on this event for more than a year, we have achieved our goal. It might have seemed crazy to want to hold the official opening ceremony to the FEI European Championship in the public square of the centre of Assisi but the city offered a beautiful backdrop that everyone appreciated. I must thank so many people for making the event possible and I think we can be proud of what we have achieved."
Spain's Maria Alvarez Ponton celebrates victory at the FEI Meydan City Open European Endurance Championship. (c) Gilly Wheeler