Lennon joins the greats with a show of class


EQUESTRIAN: Grania Willis revisits a golden year for the sport when show jumper

It was another golden year in equestrian circles, with Dermott Lennon putting his name amongst the greats by bringing home the Holy Grail of show jumping, the individual world championship title.

Incredibly, the reserved 33-year-old from Loughbrickland, Co Down, who had broken onto the international stage only three years earlier, donned a mantel that had consistently eluded the Irish, even in the great old days of such luminaries as Eddie Macken (twice second) and Captain Gerry Mullins (fourth).

Lennon, who had played a role in Ireland's record-breaking 10 Nations Cup wins in 2000 and then clinched a first-ever European team title for the show jumpers in Holland in the summer of 2001, proved to the world at large that he is the consummate horseman.

Lennon had reached the four-way decider for the medals through the brilliance of the Touchdown mare Liscalgot, which had been saved for Lennon to ride through the purchase by a three-man syndicate of Sam Thompson, Woods Rosbotham and James Acheson back in March.

But, on a swelteringly hot Sunday afternoon in Jerez, Spain, during September, Lennon then had to declare his own brilliance by riding not only his own mare but also the three horses of the other finalists.

With just one pole rolled on the last of his four trips round the track, Lennon was declared the undisputed champion.

And, while he savoured the golden moment, Ireland could celebrate a world championship title that will last for the next four years, guaranteeing Lennon automatic entry to every show in the world.

Even before the world equestrian games, Lennon had been consistently reminding his rivals that he was not to be trifled with.

Within hours of the Tipan syndicate deal being sown-up with breeders Terence and Mary Harvey, Lennon took Liscalgot to Dortmund in Germany to win both the World Cup qualifier and the pre-qualifier, a rarely achieved double. He scooped the closing speed championship at Hickstead with Ginger Watt and a matter of days later, took the curtain-raising speed at Kerrygold Dublin with the same horse.

But there were plenty of other highlights during the season, with 22-year-old Cian O'Connor, the hugely popular winner of the Kerrygold Puissance in Dublin, claiming the leading rider award in the Samsung Nations Cup series - even though the Irish, for once, failed to top the teams at a single Nations Cup meeting.

Peter Charles, winner of the Kerrygold speed championship in Dublin, then claimed the Hickstead Derby for the second successive year to ensure that the Boomerang trophy came back to his Hampshire mantelpiece for another 12 months, while his compatriots also notched up win after win.

There were hugely successful raids on the European prize funds by Army riders, most notably Lieutenant David O'Brien, who took the Gijon Grand Prix and speed championships, as well as netting doubles in Falsterbo and Linz and the Vichy Derby, and fellow Lieutenant Shane Carey, whose Falsterbo wins included the Derby and the leading rider award, plus a string of other victories.

Jessica Kurten, who missed the world games when her horse was savaged on the return flight from Calgary in the countdown to Jerez, picked off the Vienna jumping Derby, and there were multiple wins on the continent for Harry Marshall and Conor Swail, with Swail's tally including his first international Grand Prix triumph at Zuidlaren in Holland.

Also keeping the green Irish coats out front were Billy Twomey, with a double at the Horse of the Year Show, Clement McMahon, Cameron Hanley, Denis Coakley, Captain Gerry Flynn and rookie Paul O'Shea.

And there was other new blood coming through too, with 15-year-old Anthony Condon from Co Waterford taking individual bronze at the European pony championships in Lanaken, Belgium.

Although the dressage riders failed to shine in Jerez, there were plenty of solid results during the year, including a Grand Prix Speciale win in Milan and a Grand Prix victory in Munich for Anna Merveldt-Steffens and Heike Holstein's winning of the Grand Prix Speciale in Slovenia.

And, on the eventing circuit, Meath's Elizabeth Power floored the opposition to win the British young riders championship and Sara Glynn from north Co Dublin triumphed in the pony equivalent.