Sunday, August 10, 2008

Belgian Medal Hopes: Why Karin Donckers in Second Place Is So Special

Karin Donckers rode beautifully to hold second place at the end of eventing dressage. (FEI/Kit Houghton photo)

Belgium? In second place? In Eventing?

Nestled between Australian and German high-powered team efforts lies Karin Donckers, the individual rider in eventing for Belgium. You may remember Karin's spectacular fifth place finish at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Ahead of her were Clayton Fredericks on Ben Along Time and Philip Dutton on Connaught. Both of those pairs are behind her today.

Most Americans couldn't find Belgium on a map of Europe. Maybe they know about Belgian chocolate. Or Belgian draft horses. Or they remember their World War II history and the Battle of the Bulge. Modern-day European politics are centered in Belgium; the capital city of Brussels is the seat of the European Union's government. I suppose that, yes, the sprouts come from there, too!

But what does this tiny country mean in the big picture of international equestrianism?

Belgium has a long history of high performance results. Squashed between Holland and Germany as it is, how could it not be a hot bed of top riders? Olympics gold medal winner Rodrigo Pessoa, who rides for his native Brazil, has his training center in Belgium. There must be a reason!

Let's look back in Olympic history: The nation’s riders won two of the four gold medals awarded when equestrian events were held for the first time during the second Olympic Games in Paris in 1900. The medals were awarded in the categories of jumping, long jump and high jump. Wouldn't you love to see THAT on videotape?

In 1920, when the Games were held on home soil in Antwerp, Belgian riders had their best-ever medal tally---two golds, a silver and two bronzes. By this time, the equestrian program had been expanded to include Dressage, Eventing and Vaulting. (vaulting was on the program for the first and only time, like the high jump and the long jump were in 1900).

More recently, the country has encountered harder times, and its riders have not been on the medal rostrum since the 1976 Games in Montreal, when they won a team bronze and an individual bronze.

But the Belgian equestrian fraternity is not disheartened. “We have been regular competitors at the Games, and while we haven’t been able to win a medal since Montreal we have gone close several times,” said Belgian official Mr Ingmar De Vos.

“We may have finished just out of the medals, but we have been competitive, recording two fourths in Athens, a fourth in Sydney and a fourth in Barcelona,” he stressed.

Mr De Vos, Secretary General of the Belgian Equestrian Federation and leader of the Olympic equestrian team, said that while Belgium has not been able to qualify for the team events in Hong Kong, he is is optimistic the country’s top riders can qualify for the individual events in all three disciplines, and be medal prospects.

He said among these riders are Jos Lansink, the current world champion in Jumping; Karin Donckers, who has a good record in Eventing; and Jeroen Devroe, who has been impressive in Dressage.

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