High-flyers and surprises in the Prize of Sparkasse

The first results at the CHIO Aachen 2024 have been decided. Today, the Groups, Ladies and Men battled it out in the Prize of Sparkasse. All of the defending title holders were able to assert themselves again – which is not as matter of course as it perhaps sounds.

Yes, it was the title defenders, who proved to be the best Group in the Prize of Sparkasse again this year: Team Norka from VV Köln-Dünnwald. But it was no easy task. Because although the successful team from the Rhineland had worked hard on a new freestyle routine over the winter, two of the two-legged and indeed the four-legged pillar of the European Championship team had to pull out due to injuries. After tearing her cruciate ligament, Bela Lehnen has only just started training again. Philip Goroncy broke his foot and their horse Calidor also has a sick note. The latter was substituted for by the junior horse, Ecuador. Thomas Brüsewitz and Justin van Gerven, who actually already left the Group in 2022, were reactivated as replacements for the two injured athletes. New athletes with their individual strengths had demanded a new freestyle routine, their trainer, Torben Jacobs, reported. That in turn meant that the past few months certainly weren’t boring for him and his team. “What one normally works on over the winter during training, had to be rehearsed within a few weeks.” Hence, the reigning European Champions were thus not putting themselves under pressure this year. “Of course, we have high ambitions (also with regards to the World Championships in Bern, editor’s note), but we are doing this for us.” And of course for the crowd in Aachen, which raised the roof of the Albert-Vahle Arena, when the local heroes put in an immaculate performance. And they cheered just as loud again when the score was announced. Team Norka from VV Köln-Dünwald were already the best team in the compulsory test yesterday on a score of 7.806. In the freestyle that accounts for 60 percent of the overall score, the group from Cologne scored 8.861, which left their fellow competitors trailing behind. Their overall score was thus 8.439, which secured the team from the Rhineland their next victory.


Second place on an overall score of 7.983 went to the German Team Fredenbeck Junior I with Capitain Claus, lunged by Gesa Bühring. The junior team made its debut appearance in Aachen this year. The horse and lunger are used to the feeling of winning the Prize of Sparkasse. In 2021, Capitain Claus carried the Seniors of the vaulting club from North Germany to victory. The senior team has disbanded in the meantime. Gesa Bührig certainly can’t complain about a lack in aspiring young talents. “We have 100 members. Fredenbeck has 5,000 inhabitants.” Which is not a bad quota. The average age of the athletes in Bührig’s new top group is 13, last year they claimed the World Championship title in the Juniors classification. Bührig’s secret of success? “I don’t think we are more talented. We simply work hard.”


The Swiss team with their horse Fjall Raven, lunged by Alexandra Löwy, came third with a score of 7.711. The Swiss sextet finished second yesterday in the compulsory test ahead of Fredenbeck. But finishing fourth in today’s freestyle (7.978) didn’t suffice to hold on to this ranking.


Victory for Meyer despite being ill


Kathrin Meyer was in bed ill up until 1 p.m. – with “some sort of infection”, which had chosen the weekend of the show in Aachen of all times to knock out the defending title holder of the Ladies in the Prize of Sparkasse. Or at least it tried to, because two and a half hours later, Kathrin Meyer performed her freestyle routine as if there was nothing wrong with her. That was important. Meyer was under pressure. She had to perform well if she wanted to win the overall classification. The newcomer, Alice Layher, who won the U21 World Championships last year and who is competing for the first time in Aachen this year, had namely gained a small lead over Meyer after the compulsory and technical tests. But Meyer had slept like a log nevertheless. “I find it easier to attack than to be on the defence,” she said. In spite of having a virus, she impressed both the judges and the crowd with her freestyle routine, which portrayed the careers of her mother, her horse and herself. The trio put in a fantastic performance in the freestyle and finished on an overall score of 8.603, which Layher had to beat.


The performance of the 22-year-old, was good, but not good enough. Small errors in her choreography today, meant that she could only secure fifth place – not enough to defend the narrow lead. She thus ended her first ever appearance at the CHIO Aachen in second place on a final score of 8.483. Disappointed? No: “I am very proud of how well it went!” she stressed. Especially since she had been “pretty nervous” before the first compulsory competition because of the atmosphere in Aachen, she revealed.


Thanks to consistently good performances in all three tests, the Swiss World Cup bronze medallist, Danielle Bürgi, also ranked third here in Aachen. And she only just missed coming second. The final score for Bürgi and her Bartolino, lunged by Lisa Huber, was 8.434.


Jabet’s “intensive” weekend


France’s Quentin Jabet didn’t have any problems defending his title in the Men’s competition. He had already won the compulsory and technical tests with his horse Ronaldo, that was lunged by Andrea Boe, and today in the freestyle test he was once again the judges’ clear favourite. His end score 8.713. His summary? “Intensive! Time is so short and the emotions come so quick,” he gushed, still totally out of breath and full of enthusiasm. Especially for the crowd in Aachen, that doesn’t celebrate the athletes according to their nationality, but instead based on their performances. “The spectators here are incredible, crazy, better than at any championships!” the French vaulter exclaimed, who is already looking forward to being able to read his name on the winners’ board in the Main Stadium a second time.
His strongest fellow competitor, the four-time winner in Aachen, Thomas Brüsewitz, who competed with William II Z, who was lunged by Maik Husmann, was not as happy. “I made life a bit difficult for myself in the second half,” he said about his freestyle choreography to Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”. “I made one or two mistakes that shouldn’t have happened.” Whereby third place in the freestyle was enough to defend his second place in the overall ranking (8.447).


Julian Wilfling with Aragorn, lunged by Alexander Zebrak, managed to leap forward in the overall ranking after only coming fifth in the compulsory test and sixth in the technical test. It didn’t look like he was going to make it onto the winners’ podium yesterday, but after the trio put in a super performance in the freestyle competition that was rewarded with second place, they moved up into third place in the final rankings (8.171).


Harwardt and Künne in front


Last year Peter Künne and Diana Harwardt won the pas de deux competition in the Prize of Sparkasse for the first time. They danced to victory again today with their trusted four-legged partner, DSP Sir Laulau, lunged by Andrea Harwardt. The 2023 European Champions and silver medallists of the World Championships in Herning in 2022 won the competition in Aachen hands down today. Harwardt/Künne were awarded 8.726, compared to 8.041 for second place, which went to Gisa Sternberg und Linda Otte, who together with Espresso, lunged by Cornelia Ammermann, are also representing Germany here in Aachen. Before the concluding freestyle on Sunday, the Austrian vaulters, Emily Scherer and Valentin Schmid with Aragorn Elmar XV, lunged by Sabine Frauenschuh, are currently lying in third place (7.945).

Successful title defense! The photo shows Kathrin Meyer, who secured victory in the Prize of the Sparkasse with the final free test. (Photo: CHIO Aachen/Jasmin Metzner)

Successful title defense! The photo shows Kathrin Meyer, who secured victory in the Prize of the Sparkasse with the final free test. (Photo: CHIO Aachen/Jasmin Metzner)