Germany’s Simone Blum, 29, etched her name into the record books when becoming the first woman in the 28-year history of the FEI World Equestrian Games, and only the second female athlete in the 65-year history of the World Jumping Championships, to take the individual title when coming out on top in the Bank of America Championship at Tryon, USA.
In a finale that kept spectators on the edges of their seats, she produced two more fantastic clear rounds with the extraordinary mare, DSP Alice, to put the result beyond doubt. And it was a super day for the Swiss when Martin Fuchs claimed silver with Clooney and Steve Guerdat on Bianca bagged the bronze.
“This was a perfect day. Alice jumped great for the whole week, she no fault in five round of competition – she was unbelievable! And she’s so careful, she has the biggest heart and I think this week she knew that she could win the hearts of all of sport, she really wanted this win today,” said Simone.
In pole position as the action began, Blum made Alan Wade’s first-round course, that caught out so many of the other 25 starters, look like a walk in the park. Guerdat was one place off the medal podium in fourth spot and just over a fence off the leader, and he was on fire today with the mare Bianca, never putting a foot wrong but unable to overtake compatriot Martin Fuchs who collected two time faults in an otherwise blissful tour of the track.
When Austria’s Max Kuhner slipped out of silver medal spot with two fences on the floor from Chardonnay then Blum had a fence in hand and Fuchs and Guerdat were now stalking her. She couldn’t afford both a fence and a time fault however, but she wasn’t quite clear about that going into the US Trust arena for the last time.
“Actually, when I came into the course I was so focused that I wondered - can I have one down or not? Maybe I should try to ride a clear round!”
And that’s exactly what she did, never looking in any danger as the incredible Alice soared high and wide before galloping through the finish with just a single time-fault to add.
Going last and keeping her head is all in a day’s work for the rider who, during her early career, was often specifically chosen as anchor rider on teams because of her coolness. And although this was her very first major Championship, she was selected for Tryon because she has shown incredible form at top level in recent years, winning the German Ladies title in 2016 and then coming out to top the 2017 German Men’s Championship in which the best German ladies are also entitled to compete.
The sense of achievement of all three who were presented with their medals this afternoon by IOC President Thomas Bach and FEI President Ingmar De Vos was tangible. For Fuchs it was particularly special moment because his 12-year-old gelding Clooney underwent colic surgery this spring but has made a tremendous recovery.
And 2012 Olympic champion, Steve Guerdat, was elated - hardly surprising as Bianca produced two breath-taking tours of two enormous tracks.
"My biggest pride today is for my horse. We had a few championships where I think she jumped better than any other but we kept just having one down and I always went home a bit disappointed because I really wanted to give her the medal that she really deserves. And I thought it was going to go the same again this year - she was jumping amazing since the beginning of the week, she touched two fences all week so I tried to get it together today and I’m so proud of her and so happy that today the world can see how special she really is!"
Asked if it felt special to have two Swiss riders on the podium Steve replied:
“Yes, but to have like another brother is even more special! I think everybody knows that I’m the son of Philippe Guerdat and I have an amazing family and I have an amazing brother, but everyone also knows how special Family Fuchs is to me. We train together, we are neighbours, we talk every day. They are like my second family and they treat me like I’m their third son so that makes it as special as it gets!”
For Blum - also team bronze medallist - there is now another big day ahead. She said she owes her success to fiancee Hansi Goskowitz because “he found Alice and he's the most wonderful man for me in the world and its because of him I'm sitting here! I'll marry him in the next four weeks - he will become Mr Blum!”
Britain’s Amanda Derbyshire finished 17th on a score of 17.48
Florida-based Amanda had started the day in 15th spot and hit two fences for eight faults in the latter half of the first round on the Luidam 10-year-old Luibanta BH.
“The first part of the round was good and she was really unlucky with the first rail; I don’t see how we could have done anything different. The second rail was my fault and I’ll take that. One less pole would have meant we were in the final 12 but we’ll go away and think about how we can do better next time,” said Amanda.
“All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better week - I never expected to reach the final. She’s a horse of a lifetime and tried her best all week.”
Photos © FEI/Martin Dokoupil & Jon Stroud Media/BEF