Another Medal for USA at the World Championships in Brno
Linda Bibbler, U.S. Chef d?Equipe
|"Darkside" Team lights up the arena.|
As most of you know, the World Vaulting Championships are held every two years.
This year, the Championships were held in Brno, Czech Republic from July 30 to August 3.
Every country was allowed to enter one team of six members plus one alternate, three women
plus one alternate and three men plus one alternate.
For the first time a Junior event, crowning a Junior European Champion, was held in conjunction with the ?Senior? World Championships. This event included teams with vaulters 16 years old and under and individuals between 14 and 18 years old. There were no USA participants in the Junior event but we hope to field Junior teams and individuals in the future.
Our daughter, Isabelle Parker, Woodside Vaulters coach, met Ali Divita, Elizabeth Osborn and Megan Lanfri in Zurich on July 23. The vaulters had been training and competing in Europe for a month and had arrived the day before for a week of practice on their back-up horse, Figaro. My husband, Jim, and I joined Isabelle in Vienna. Our family (including Isabelle?s two children) all enjoyed a couple of days of sightseeing: a museum, a tour of the Vienna Opera House, lunch at the Naschmarkt, a carriage ride through downtown Vienna.
Preparations and More Practice
On Sunday, July 27 we drove to Brno, Czech Republic. We arrived around noon. Pam Lane from USEF and our vet, Dr. Stacey Kent had arrived earlier that morning. The vaulters were all due that day. Pam and my husband decorated our stalls and the aisle with U.S. banners. Pam and I then checked in our U.S. contingent. Despite having submitted the required photos for all vaulters, longeurs and attendants who were to get credentials, we found the organizers had no record of the photos. This slowed down the check-in procedure as every member of the U.S. contingent had to go in to the competition office to get a photograph and wait to receive his/her credentials. Monday was a practice day. Every horse had an assigned time in the warm- up arena and competition arena. There were six practice arenas plus the competition arena. All had the same excellent EuroFelt footing.
|Mary McCormick places 9th overall.|
The Dreaded Vet Check
On Tuesday morning the vet check started. As Chef d?Equipe (or coach or vaulter), the vet check is probably the most nerve-wracking part of the competition. I awoke by four a.m. and could not go back to sleep. For the next few hours, I worried about what I would do if a U.S. horse did not pass the vet check. We had only three horses on site: one horse for the team and Mary McCormick and two horses for Elizabeth and Ali. All three horses had been in numerous CVIs throughout Europe and had passed numerous vet checks, so I had no reason to believe we would have a problem at the vet check. Yet, for hours I lay awake worrying about what I would do if one horse failed the vet check. The team did not have a backup at all and Mary had never been on the two horses entered for Ali and Elizabeth. Since the Vet Check is done in alphabetical order by country, the USA was last. Pam Lane, Dr. Kent and I stood for three hours, watching every horse, trying to see why one horse would pass and one horse would fail. Stacey had watched both our horses trot, on Sunday and again on Monday. She thought they both looked good. Nevertheless, the vet check was high anxiety until the very end when the three USA horses trotted and were immediately passed. With a sigh of relief, we were ready for the competition to begin.
A Strong Beginning
The team event started on Wednesday. The U.S. and Austrian teams were the favorites. There was much buzz in the barn about the amazing Slovakian team freestyle, too. With the change in the age limit and the addition of the compulsory expert, many of these teams included ?big names? in vaulting. After compulsories, the Americans were on top, but only by the very slimmest of margins. Only 0.008 separated the top three teams. At this level, horse scores are important and any tiny vaulting mistake is very costly. The Slovakian team, in fourth place, was hurt badly by low horse scores.
That night, at 12:15 am, I got the call no Chef d?Equipe wants. There was concern about Leonardo, the horse which Mary shared with the Team. Our U.S. vet thought that Mary might have to move to another horse. The team had already started on the horse and therefore could not switch horses. Mary, however, had not yet started and could switch. When the determination was made that the horse could not carry both the team and individual, Mary had to switch horses. Given FEI rules, Mary had to compete on a horse entered on the U.S. entry forms. Since neither she nor the team brought a back-up, Mary had to use one of the horses listed for Ali and Elizabeth. Understandably, Mary was upset. I was upset. I think all the Americans were upset. The sad part was that this didn?t have to be the case if back-up horses had been arranged in advance. Mary ended up competing on Pikkolo, the same horse as Elizabeth and Ali.
|Elizabeth Osborn earns 12th place overall.|
Finally the individual competition started. Pikkolo, with Elizabeth Osborn and Ali Divita, was the 22nd horse to go.
Both girls vaulted well, but Ali regripped the handles in her stand and then bobbled slightly -- a costly mistake.
Pikkolo returned as the 25th horse with Mary. The day ended with Mary in 10th, Liz in 14th, and Ali in 22nd.
Thursday evening, Jim and I hosted a party for the US contingent. All the vaulters, longeurs, coaches and parents joined us
in the courtyard of our hotel. It was an opportunity to relax and celebrate the success of our vaulters and horses.
The competition continued on Friday with the individual and team freestyles. Again, all the U.S. women did very well,
nailing their freestyles. Ali just missed the cut. The competition in the Women?s division is extremely tough.
Unfortunately the U.S. team had two falls in their freestyle, dropping them to third place. Meanwhile the Germans and Austrians
had flawless freestyles and remained very close in first and second.
Saturday the Junior team and individual finals took place. Most of the Americans used the day to pamper the horses and do a little sightseeing, wander around the old part of Brno or take a drive into the surrounding countryside. My husband and I drove the back roads to charming Czech towns near the Austrian border and visited some lovely castles and parks.
|Alicen Divita places 15th overall.|
On Sunday all the Americans did very well in the finals. The team put together a flawless second round freestyle, earning them the Bronze Medal. Liz and Mary continued to put in solid performances against very tough competition. Nearly every vaulter in the top 15 had placed in the top 15 at previous World Championships ? except for the Americans. The U.S. did not have any men competing as individuals this year, but it would be a shame not to mention some of the wonderful and memorable male competitors. Probably the most exciting was Petr Eim from the Czech Republic, who won the gold in front of a home crowd with an excellent final round freestyle. Kai Vorberg, the reigning World Champion, took home the silver. The bronze went to Daniel Kaiser, a young German vaulter from near Leipzig. Another exciting vaulter and great crowd pleaser was Ararat Martin Ruiz from Spain who placed fourth. His costume, musical interpretation, strength and softness were amazing. It was an honor to serve as Chef d?Equipe for this amazing group of athletes. They participated with drive and skill in a world-class event that raised the bar for top vaulting competitions.
|The US crowd goes crazy for Megan Benjamin during her final round at WEG.|