Photo Caption: Great Britain's Joanne Eccles, pictured with her father John who is her lunger, took individual female Vaulting gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2010 in Kentucky, USA. (Kit Houghton/FEI)
Britain's Eccles goes for double-gold in Vaulting, but French stars could be the show-stealers
Great Britain's Joanne Eccles will be bidding for her second consecutive gold medal in the Female Individual Championship when Vaulting gets underway at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in the Zenith Indoor Arena in Caen, France on 2 September. However the big show-stealers may be the host nation's Male Vaulting super-stars, World and FEI World Cup™ Vaulting Champion Nicolas Andreani, and European champion Jacques Ferarri.
When the Frenchmen performed in Bordeaux earlier this year the home crowd went wild. And with Andreani by his own admission nearing the end of his career, the Zenith Stadium may provide the ideal venue for his final curtain-call.
The USA arrives at these Games as defending Squad champions, and there is a great deal of excitement about the many "firsts" attached to the Vaulting discipline at the 2014 Games.
New Zealand sends a squad for the very first time, Lambert Leclezio (MRI), who received support from FEI Solidarity, is representing his country, Mauritius, for the first time at World Championship level, and Pas-de-Deux, so successfully introduced into the 2013/2014 season's FEI World Cup™ Vaulting series, will make its FEI World Equestrian Games™ debut.
The discipline of Vaulting, which involves gymnastic exercises on horse-back and which is a huge hit with the public, has, like so many of the other FEI sports, attracted a significantly increased entry for this edition of the Games.
A total of 179 athletes from 22 countries will line out compared to the previous record number of 149 athletes from 17 countries set at the last Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA four years ago. There will be 17 nations represented by squads of 6 vaulters, 35 Female Individuals and 18 Male Individuals along with 12 partnerships competing in the popular new Pas-de Deux.
There will be four separate sets of medals, for the Squad (Team) competition, Female Individual, Male Individual and Pas-de-Deux. The lunger who keeps the horse cantering in a rhythmical stride that supports the artistic efforts of the athletes as they perform their floor-plans is a key player in this demanding sport and also receives a medal along with the vaulters.
It's going to be a busy week, starting with the Compulsory Tests on Tuesday 2 September, Freestyle tests on Wednesday 3, Technical Tests and the first Freestyle Pas-de-Deux on Thursday 4 and the drama-filled Finals for all four events taking place on Friday 5 September.
In the battle for the Female honours, Eccles can expect a strong challenge from Italy's Anna Cavallaro who successfully defended her FEI World Cup™ Vaulting title this year, while in the Pas-de-Deux the Austrian duo of Jasmin Lindner and Lukas Wacha may prove hard to beat.
Eccles will join her sister, Hannah, in the Pas-de-Deux challenge, but the history-making Austrians are a polished pair having previously clinched the 2012 FEI World Vaulting Championship title in Le Mans (FRA) before storming to victory at the FEI European Vaulting Championships 2013 in Ebreichsdorf (AUT). Performing to "Heart's a Mess" by Gotye with lunger Klaus Haidacher at Bordeaux this year, they received the maximum 10 points from German judge Jochen Schilffarth in the first round, leading to a stunning final score of 8,783 points, and if they can match that performance next week then they may well be untouchable.
Germany's Pia Engelberty and Torben Jacobs, bronze medalists at last year's FEI European Vaulting Championships, finished second while Stefanie Millinger and Evelyn Freund from Salzburg (AUT) completed the top three at the Bordeaux fixture, and all will be back in action and hoping to the turn the tables when the exciting Pas-de-Deux gets underway in Caen.
Andreani, with his horse Quiece d'Aunis and lunger Marina Dupon Joosten scored a massive 8,826 to win the FEI World Cup™ Male Vaulting Final at Bordeaux where his French colleague, Ferrari finished second ahead of Switzerland's Lukas Heppler.
Andreani is something of a "rock star" in the sport, and should he prove successful in his bid for Male Individual gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™2014 Vaulting Championships then the roof of the Zenith Stadium may well go into orbit on Friday 5 September as the crowd will definitely not be holding back on their emotions for both their sport and their home hero.
Facts and Figures:
NZL are sending a Vaulting squad for the first time to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy.
Pas-de-deux will be included in the FEI World Equestrian Games™ programme for the first time at this edition.
Lambert Leclezio (MRI), who received support from FEI Solidarity, is representing his country, Mauritius, for the first time at World Championship level.
Bongani Mvumvu (RSA), who will be competing in his second FEI World Equestrian Games™, also benefitted from an FEI Solidarity Scholarship.
179 athletes from 22 countries - previous record was 149 athletes from 17 countries.
17 nations represented by squads of 6 vaulters.
4 competitions - Squad, Female Individual, Male Individual and Pas de Deux.
4 sets of medals, and the lunger also receives a medal along with the vaulters.
12 top teams qualify for the Freestyle Final.
35 Female Individuals.
18 Male Individuals.
Both male and female competitions begin with a Compulsory class which is followed on the next day by a Freestyle.
15 top vaulters then go into round two which consists of a Technical test which is followed on the next day by a Freestyle Final.
12 Pas-de-Deux partnerships.
Ground Jury members: Véronique Girard (FRA) President, Helma Schwarzmann (GER), Susan Detol (USA), Pavla Krauspe (SVK), Anita Flamand-Prochaska (AUT), Karolina Wickholm (FIN), Elzbieta Dolinska (POL) and Anna Kull (SUI).
Technical Delegate: Erich Breiter (AUT).
Chief Steward: Sintje Klink (GER).
Appeal Committee Vaulting member: Jean-Michel Pinel (FRA).
Great Britain's Joanne Eccles will defend the Female Individual title she won at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2010 in Kentucky (USA).
Joanne Eccles will also compete in the Pas de Deux with her sister Hannah and they are strong medal contenders.
Team USA will defend the Team title, having clinched gold on home ground in Kentucky in 2010 where Germany took silver and Austria clinched the bronze.
The Male Individual medals in 2010 went to Switzerland's Patric Looser (gold), Germany's Kai Voberg (silver) and Nicolas Andreani from France (bronze).
Andreani will again be contesting the Individual Male title.
Notes to Editors:
Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy (FRA) on 23 August-7 September brings together 967 athletes and 1,113 horses from 74 nations for 15 days of world-class competition in Jumping, Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage, Eventing, Driving, Endurance, Vaulting and Reining.
For more information see: www.normandy2014.com