Five Rio 2016 gold medallists will headline the Para equestrian arena of the Longines International Equestrian Federation (FEI) European Championships, set for 21-23 August in Gothenburg, Sweden.
They will be joined by a further three Rio silver and bronze medallists, and together with 62 other athletes from 21 countries will compete for 10 individual and freestyle medals in five grades.
Meanwhile a brand new British team will head to Gothenburg to defend their nation’s unbeaten record of European, World and Paralympic team titles.
Austria’s Pepo Puch is one of those Rio stars. The current individual and freestyle European champion looks to build on his individual Paralympic gold in the grade Ib (now grade II).
The grade I contest will see the return of current World freestyle champion Sara Morganti. The Italian was left disappointed in Rio when her horse failed the initial heath check, which takes place before every competition, leaving her unable to compete.
The absence of a number of top riders from grade III (formerly grade II) leaves the field wide open in Gothenburg, where the strongest challenge for medals should, on paper, come from Germany’s Steffen Zeibig, who took bronze in the grade’s freestyle in Rio, and British newcomer Suzanna Hext.
The Gothenburg arena will thump to the beats of dance music during the grade IV freestyle, when the Netherlands’ Rio 2016 gold winner Sanne Voets is likely to perform to Dutch dance star Armin van Buuren’s worldwide hit ‘This is What it Feels Like’.
Voets, who will ride Demantur again in Gothenburg, said: “My hopes are high, of course, as we have won every competition since Rio. However, in sports, as we know, nothing is for sure. It all has to fall into place at the right time. Demantur is getting better and better in training and I think he has never been as good as he is now. He’s feeling happy, so I am too.”
Belgium’s Michele George, Great Britain’s Sophie Wells, and the Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar resume their rivalry again in the grade V competition. Hosmar is the defending European champion in both individual titles, while George and Wells shared the Rio gold medals between them with Wells taking the individual title and George the freestyle.
The team competition is one that could prove fascinating too. Great Britain has topped the podium in European, Paralympic and Worlds competitions. However, this year’s team, with the exception of nine-time member Wells, is made up entirely of newcomers to top international competition.
Complete results and competition schedule from the FEI European Championships are available on the event website.