Cian O’Connor was grinning ear to ear, pumping his fist into the sky as he crossed the finish flags, clinching the gold medal for Team Ireland in the European Championships of show jumping. The team, led by chef d’equipe Rodrigo Pessoa, has accomplished exactly what they told everyone they were going to do, despite a rocky week.
The team faced a setback after Bertram Allen was eliminated after a fall from his horse, Hector van d’Abdijhoeve, when the stallion left too early to an oxer in round 1 of the team competition. The decision was made that Bertram would not jump today, leaving Shane Sweetnam, Cian O’Connor, Denis Lynch to finish the job. All three riders delivered clear rounds in the final round of team jumping to claim the top of the podium, despite Sweden’s lead for most of the competition. Sweden finished second, and Switzerland third.
Here’s what the winning team had to say:
Team Ireland chef d’equipe Rodrigo Pessoa:
“It’s really, truly special. We had this goal since the beginning of the year and the road was a little bit bumpy and we had some things happen during the year, and even this week, that were a little bumpy – but everyone stuck together and we always said, ‘We lose together, we win together.’ But they showed a lot of determination and strength today.”
“Not my week, not the nicest way to win a medal, but I never worried how I want them to move forth and I’m not going to start now. The lads, they’re absolutely brilliant, every one of them. We didn’t have any room all week for mistakes. One bad round and it was over. I think it was absolutely amazing today to pull out three clears. Each one of them better than the other. I’m delighted for everyone involved and Rodrigo – it’s fantastic.”
Denis Lynch, who had the last fence down yesterday, but jumped clear today for the win:
“No, I wasn’t (horribly nervous). That’s what we’re here for, to deliver. Sadly, I didn’t do it yesterday, would have even given us a better advantage. (I had) the last fence down which I take in my cap. But tonight, I put the ball in the net, which is what’s expected of me.”
“It’s been fairly stressful of a week to be honest…Things didn’t go perfectly each day which worried everyone a little bit. There’s a long time between the classes and trying to build towards it, and especially from yesterday to today we knew we were down to three (team members). We had a good dinner last night and we got together and said, ‘We’ll keep fighting for this.’ The Irish are always better as underdogs and we proved it.”
Cian O’Connor, who was last to jump clear in the final round:
“We spoke about it last night with Rodrigo as well and thought the lights might help to our advantage – a little spookier with more atmosphere might catch out some horses. The three stallions that we have, actually four stallions on the team with Bertram’s, but the three stallions that jumped tonight are all very very brave and scopey and the lights nearly helped them. We were quietly confident that we could do the job.”