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“Team spirit” and “new policy for selections”…the right way for the bronze medal

By Leonard Liesens, coach of the Swedish team

Another big goal to me was to create a real ‘team spirit’ Obviously the Team Bronze was like the ‘icing on the cake’ for the Team Sweden.

It was not my goal to go for a medal at the European. I started my duty as the coach of Sweden only in April.

I wanted to review the whole elite system. Like in any situation, a first study of the existing situation was mandatory to me. I was already able to pick a list of rider/horse combinations which could pretend to a better speed on the distance of 160 km. But these amazons – almost all endurance riders in Sweden are females – didn’t really believe in their ability to perform better and faster.

A first gathering with the riders, followed by a couple of clinics in the spring were organized. Some changes were introduced in the training program, in the management of the horses, and so on. Also a major change was brought to the selection system: no minimum speed – except the 14 km/h FEI threshold which was required to enter the long list.

All in all, we were able to reach a total of 15 horse/rider combinations qualified on 160 km. While only 5 were qualified at the start of the season. So the new policy was working…

Another big goal to me was to create a real ‘team spirit’ among the girls. Helping each other, socializing, eating together, chatting and having fun… that’s also making part of a big group competing abroad. I initiated the process during the various clinics we had in Sweden and later, during the selection process – even if the competitive spirit was always there. I had to cope also with the Swedish mentality, very different from our Belgian one. But I got to taste already the Scandinavian style during my 4 years with the Norwegian team. It goes without saying that I received a fantastic help from our team vet Mia Svensson in the process of rasping the sharp angles.

Of course, to me, having the European Championship in my training field was an advantage. I know the trail and its traps. The trails in the Sonian forest are relatively easy, with various types of going, but with continuous ups and downs. Just an example… when using the canter training track (1.2km oval) during one hour, you accumulate 20km or so, but at the same time 400 meters of elevation difference. You don’t realize that but it’s there and it counts in the horse’s total energy expenditure! In my mind several were going too fast in the first loops and I was quite sure that soon or late the trail would take its toll. It did…

The instructions to my riders were simple. One – Sara – was asked to follow the French riders because her horse was able to cope with the speed that I was expecting from them (I was pretty sure that Jean-Philippe was going to be in the lead with the Spanish riders while the four others would cruise at a relatively lower speed). Using this tactic, she was away from the inevitable pressure and stress of the leading group. The four other riders (Emma, Jessica, Lena and Anneli) had instructions of cruising near 16 km/h in a compact group. The tactic showed to be a success.

No one believed me, afterwards, when I said that I didn’t look at the team ranking until the end of the 4th loop. But that’s true. I was not interested in that. My goal was to complete a team (the last time Sweden completed a team was in 2005!). But my wife Caroll was agitated and smiling at me and making signs from the other side of the trotting area at the end of 4th loop. It let me decide to go and collect a team ranking. We were 4th, behind France, Italy and Spain. It then became necessary to watch the others trotting. When France lost 2 riders at the recheck, we were virtually Bronze with one hour ahead of Switzerland. The instructions to my girls remained the same… Sara was to keep her 10th place without taking any chance. The gang of 4 was to cruise altogether at 15..16 km/h and help each other to cross the finish line hand in hand to offer a good display of the new Swedish team.

And we did it! 24 years since Sweden obtained the last Team Medal. I’m very proud of my girls. They rock!!! I make profit of these columns to thank all the people that supported and congratulated us, from Sweden, from Belgium and from anywhere in the world.

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