Six Super Seasons of the Samsung Super League with FEI Series
RELEASE: September 30, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Malina Gueorguiev
When the Samsung Super League with FEI series arrived on the international scene back in 2003, few could have imagined the effect it would have on the sport of show jumping. Nations Cup competition had been around a very long time but it had become somewhat jaded, with the growing number of big-money events overshadowing the concept of pride in competing as part of a national team for limited financial reward.
In the turn of one season however, from May to September 2003, all that would change, and the sport, at every level, would benefit greatly. The Super League formula—eight top teams, eight prestigious venues, a thrilling finale with double-points on offer and relegation for the country finishing bottom of the leaderboard—gripped the imagination and enthusiasm of riders, organizers and the public alike and, quite suddenly, the battle for world dominance took center stage once again.
The support of the Korean giant, Samsung, ensured maximum exposure and, in the opening season, the line-up of nations included Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Ireland, Belgium, France and Great Britain. The French were on the crest of the wave that saw them soar to victory at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera. During the previous summer and during the first two seasons Spain was a force to be reckoned with. "In this format, the Super League is similar to the Six-Nations Rugby tournament and it is easier to understand," pointed out the then French Chef d'Equipe Jean Maurice Bonneau prior to the inaugural round. "I believe that it will seriously increase the visibility of our sport," he added—and he would be proven right.French Flair
The French stormed to victory at the first two legs in La Baule and Rome, Bruno Broucqsault and Dileme de Cephe playing an important role, but the Irish came out on top in St Gallen following a third-round jump-off between the non-Super League Swiss side's Markus Fuchs and Robert Splaine, who would later go on to become Irish team manager. Like the French, the Irish were enjoying something of a purple patch at the time, having secured the European team title at Arnhem, Holland, in 2001 and the individual world title in Jerez in 2002, where Dermott Lennon reigned supreme. When they won again at the fourth leg of the new series in Aachen, they were only 0.5 points behind the French at the halfway stage.
Outspoken Irish team manager Tommy Wade was super-confident. "We've got a lot of good riders and horses out there now—enough to field two top teams at any competition in the world," he said. That situation would not last much longer however, as Trevor Coyle's world-class partnership with the great stallion Cruising would come to an end and Lennon's mare would suffer an injury from which she would not recover, while other changes were also afoot.
The British were clear winners at Hickstead, with Nick Skelton stealing the national headlines with his double-clear performance with Arko just two years after suffering a life-threatening neck injury. Ireland and France shared runner-up spot this time out, but in Dublin two weeks later the French forged ahead again while the Irish spectators fell in love with two very special stallions of contrasting proportions—the dynamic little French-bred Flipper d'Elle ridden by Lauren Goffinet, and the powerful and spectacular Cumano with Belgium's Jos Lansink on board. The "ooohs" and "aaahs" of sheer delight, as Flipper ferociously attacked his fences and Cumano left so much daylight below him it seemed he might never come back to earth, could be heard all around the showground.
The penultimate leg in Rotterdam was a bizarre occasion. Heavy rain and poor ground conditions led to a reduced-height 1.40m course of fences and the home side came out on top while the Italians and Swedes, weak in previous legs, shared runner-up spot with France. D