Just one rail stood between Ben Maher and the gold medal at the European Championships in Rotterdam and he took his place on the podium in the silver position as it came down to a fight to the finish between the top three.
Going into the individual final, Ben had headed the leaderboard with Poden Farm’s powerful Explosion W after posting three foot-perfect clear rounds.
Twenty-five initially came forward in Sunday’s first round with just six providing clears with the final related distance line of oxer to a vertical to oxer double catching out many of the riders.
Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and Clooney 51 moved up from overnight bronze to silver as Belgium’s young 23-year-old star Jos Verlooy and the 11-year-old Igor made one mistake at the combination first time out but Ben delivered yet another extraordinary round to stay in the lead.
Only the top 12 were invited to come forward into round two, including Britain’s Holly Smith and the Heart Throb 10-year-old Hearts Destiny – bred in Britain by Steph Callwood and her mother Barbara Scott – after completing the first round on four faults. They went on to clear every fence in round two, crossing the finish line just over the time allowed to pick up one time fault and finish 10th overall.
Jos left all the fences intact second time out but picked up a single time fault. And when Martin Fuchs did exactly the same, all the pressure was on last-to-go Ben.
There was less than a fence between the top two but Ben looked to have the gold in the bag as Explosion powered over every fence. But the pole over the water tray vertical two from home fell to gasps from the crowd and he dropped from gold to silver just 0.16 points behind. The Swiss would be celebrating tonight.
“It looked very much like I would be second again, Ben has been great over the past two years and especially at this championship again I didn’t think I would beat him or that he would make a fault, but obviously I am very happy to be winning here and to finally not have only the silver medal!” said an emotional Martin, who had finished second in last year’s World Equestrian Games in Tryon, USA, and the world cup final in Gothenburg, Sweden, earlier this year.
Clearly disappointed this evening, Maher was still delighted with this week’s results with Explosion W. “On the day I wasn’t good enough to beat Martin, but all of these horses deserve to win - I made this one mistake and I’m very happy that if anyone has to beat me it is Martin!” he said.
World Class Performance manager Di Lampard summed up.
“It’s been an incredible Championships for us and to be returning home with an Olympic qualifying ticket, which was the main objection of the Championship, in addition to two medals is absolutely fantastic. The whole team were outstanding and to have two riders in the top ten stands testament to the depth of top level horses and riders that we have in Great Britain,” she said.
Text © Jumping Around/Photos courtesy British Showjumping & Lewis Harding Photography