August 8, 2006 -- Young athletes in leotards jumping on and off horses, flying through the air and dancing to music on and around their horse with spectators cheering them on--that's vaulting for you. Vaulting has been around for centuries and was originally designed as a means to train and perfect both balance and complicity between horse and rider. While the performance has altered, vaulting remains a test of stability and synchronicity.
The 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) will see the vaulting competitions take place during the first week in the Deutsche Bank Stadium. The stadium will be covered with a temporary roof in order to provide optimal conditions in which to perform. Vaulting is, intrinsically, an indoor sport. This was made all too clear at the CHIO Aachen this year, where the vaulting competitions had to be relocated from the roofless stadium into the Albert Vahle Halle due to heavy rain and storms.
This year, there will be three vaulting gold medals up for grabs: the team competition and the individual male and female competitions. Vaulters from 23 countries will take part. There are many countries participating for the first time, such as Colombia, or for the second time, such as Russia and South Africa.
The German vaulters are the favorites in the the battle for the medals. Germany has won 23 out of 30 world champion titles so far. Although it might prove difficult to win all three titles this year, particularly given the changes last year in the FEI Rules for Vaulting Events which may allow other countries to get a little closer. For example, last year at the European Championships, which were the first ever held under the new rules, Slovakia won the team competition for the first time, leaving Germany with two out of four possible titles.
The new rules brought about the following major changes:
- There are always six judges, three of whom judge solely the horse, while the other three judge solely the vaulters.
- Individual vaulters have to perform a technical test in the second round instead of compulsories.
- Teams are reduced from eight to six vaulters and there is no age-limit anymore (previously 18 years).
- Vaulters older than 18 years can either compete in the team event or individual event, but not in both.
The 2006 WEG are the first world championships to apply these new rules.
In general, each country can enter three female and three male individual vaulters and one team consisting of six plus one reserve vaulter. According to the nominated entries, 15 teams, 33 individual male and 55 individual female vaulters will compete in Aachen.
The individual competitions consist of four tests: in the first round compulsories and freestyle, and in the second round, for which only the 15 best vaulters of the first round are qualified, there are the technical and final freestyle tests. The final score is the summation of all four tests. In the team competition there are only three tests: in the first round compulsories and freestyle, and in the second round (with the 12 best teams) there is only the final freestyle. The scoring system in baulting is quite complex, the final score being the combination of many sub-scores, added together, divided again and so on. The highest score is 10.0 while the lowest is 0. But quite often, the difference between winning and losing can come down to a thousandth of a point.
There is no big favorite in the women's competition as last year's two top vaulters are injured. While titleholder Nicola Ströh from Germany is on the entry list, she injured her knee for the second time four months ago after having already spent a year recovering from a torn cruciate ligament. Nicola herself is positive that she will be able to compete and defend her title in Aachen, but she knows she will be facing fierce competition. Unfortunately, double silver medalist Rikke Laumann of Denmark's vaulting season was cut short when she fell and tore a cruciate ligament during a dismount at CVI Houten in July.
Anja Barwig of Germany, 2005 European champion, will try to be on top again although her last appearance, CVI Munich, was not promising (placed 6th). Sissi Jarz of Austria, 2005 European bronze medalist, is in excellent form and has already won three CVIs this year alone (Brno, Stadl-Paura and Munich). The 18-year-old American Megan Benjamin was very impressive at CVI Munich, where she earned second place. Competing on the German horse Centuro, she has a good chance to win a medal in Aachen. Ines Jückstock of Germany, one of the most experienced vaulters of all time, holds two bronze medals at world level and three from European Championships.
Newcomers include the small, 14-year old French girl Sarah D'Auriol who finished 8th at CVI Munich; the Austrian vaulters Jasmin Gipperich and Kathi Faltin who finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in Munich; and Switzerland's Marion Graf, Sabrina Mettler and Angela Wildhaber, who often rub shoulders in the top five.
One vaulter has dominated the male individual vaulting scene for the past two years--Kai Vorberg from Germany with his horse Picasso. Whoever wants to be the new world champion in Aachen,will have to beat Kai first. He is not only the title holder, but he also has won all three major CVIs this year (Stadl-Paura, Wiesbaden and Munich).
Kai has one big opponent--Matthias Lang from France, double world champion (2000, 2002). Matthias retired in 2003 and had a one-year break before he made a comeback at the 2004 World Championships, where he went on to win silver, being defeated only by Kai. Chances are that it will be a duel between these two vaulters again in Aachen.
Other vaulters with chances for medals include: Petr Eim from Slovakia, who is talented and technically brilliant but is slightly disadvantaged by his small horse Catalin; Martin Ararat of Spain; and Gero Meyer and Tim Randy-Sia from Germany. Top five finishers might also include Nicolas Andreani of France, Stefan Czandl of Austria, Patrick Looser of Switzerland and the newcomer Lukas Klouda of the Czech Republic.
In the team competition three vaulters perform acrobatic and artistic movements together on the horse. It is also the only discipline where athletes of different age-groups compete together and within the same team. For example, in the American team the youngest vaulter is 10 while the eldest is 31 years old. This team, the FAME Vaulters from California, are a good bet for a medal. Devon Maitozo, individual world champion at the 1998 WEG in Rome, is also on the American team that won first place at CVI Munich in July.
However, the team competition is still very open. The titleholder is Germany, represented in 2004 by the club VV Ingelsberg. But this year RSV Neuss-Grimlinghausen will represent Germany. Yet they did not compete at any big CVI this year, so it is hard to tell how good they are in comparison to the other top teams. Slovakia, 2005 European Champions, will try to win a medal again, while Austria, 2005 European bronze medalists, will be dangerous. Austria has three good individual vaulters on their team, and they won gold last year with their junior team.
Visit EquiSearch.com for in-depth coverage by Nancy Jaffer of the vaulting competition August 24-27.