I had the privilege of attending the XI FIP World Polo Championships in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was a trip that was quite unexpected as I had been booked to build the CSI-W World Cup Jumping at Thai Polo last weekend, but with the royal cremation of HRH King Bhumibhol, the show was postponed a week and I was free to go to Sydney. I’m glad I did. What a weekend it was.
I got there on Friday, in time for the final weekend. I got to Sydney Polo Club on Friday afternoon. There was no polo on, and I just missed the show jumping, but there was special rodeo on.
The first person that recognised me at the club wasn’t a polo player. It was Chris Chugg, one of Australia’s best showjumpers. Chris has ridden in the Olympics and World Championships, and all over the world, even in Malaysia. Also there was Krissy Harris, whose horse Orchard Road I had ridden in a Canberra World Cup show, way back in the early 90′s. It was great to catch up with them as I hadn’t expected to see them there.
The rodeo was crazy. The broncos were real. There were a few riders able to stay on for the full count of eight seconds, something I would never have done, not that I wanted to try. I had never seen bull riding before. I have to say, it is much more awesome live. That day, the bulls won. No one managed a full ride.
Super Saturday saw four great games.
The first game saw an invigorated India give New Zealand the fright of their lives. They scored three goals in the first chukka, as many as they had scored in the whole tournament. Colonel Ravi Rathore was their inspiration. With three minutes to go, they led New Zealand by two goals. But the Kiwi’s clawed it back and tied it at 8-8. Inside the last minute, it was a heart-breaking own goal that gave it to New Zealand. It was sliced in from 60 yards out by Ravi as he attempted to go across his goal. It was a sad end to a great game, especially for Ravi, who had clearly been the MVP of the game.
USA mastered Spain 15 – 9 1/2 to book their place in the subsidiary final for 3rd/4th place. USA were never troubled by the Spanish.
In the third game of the day, Chile already had one foot in the final, with two wins. They knew what they had to do, and limited their 5-8 loss to England so that they still qualified for the final with a nice cushion on goal difference.
National sentiment was at its highest when Australia played Argentina for a place in the final in the last game of the day. There was plenty to cheer for, as Australia gave as good as they got. With Australia leading 2 1/2 – 2 in the 2nd chukka, James Lester murdered a goal post in a defensive play. Whiplashed, he was out for the rest of the game. Local hero Dan O’Leary took his place, but Australia was never the same, and Argentina drew away to a 9 – 5 1/2 win to seal their place in the final.
Whoever Peter Higgins had employed to write the scripts for the final day could not have done a better job. The final games on Sunday both went to sudden death.
England and USA played a hectic running game that was a pleasure to watch. Both teams were as equal as could be. USA looked like they would win it, but with less than 20 seconds to go, England’s Satnam Dhillon ran it in from the sidelines to tie the game. In sudden death, Dhillon won a penalty that Peter Webb put through to give the game to England.
The final was a humdinger. Argentina and Chile traded goals all the way. It was tied 3-3 at halftime. Chile led 5-4 in the 5th chukka, but Argentina’s 17 year old prodigy Tomas Panelo, playing at back, hammered a safety from the maximum width through the uprights to tie the score.
It was 6-6 in the sixth and when Andre Vial let fly with a screamer from 100 yards out that went dead through, everyone thought Chile would retain their championship, as there was only 40 seconds to go when they got back to the centre for the throw-in. But Panello scored with 1 second to go, yes 1 second before the bell sounded.
In sudden death it was quite even as neither side wanted to make mistakes. It came when a backhander from Chile’s back, Jose Pereira came off a pony and fell in front of the Argentinian No 1. Lucio Ocampo didn’t need a second invitation. He ran it to goal to give Argentina an 8-7 win. Poor Pereira had been absolutely solid at back, and it was this one unfortunate hit that gave Argentina.
Lucio Ocampo was named MVP, and USA’s Jesse Bray picked up the sportsmanship award for calling out his hit that the goal judges had thought had gone in.
There were parties going on everywhere after the prize-giving. The bars moved from the clubhouse to the field, so there was a massive party there. In the retail village, the food trucks and bar kept on going as the parties spread out. At the bottom of the FIP HQ, there was an after-party that needed a wristband to get in. Even the NSW police joined in the dancing when they came to check on us at 9:30 pm as the liquor license ran out. Then it was to the clubhouse for the private after-after party.
What a weekend it was. Thanks, Australia.
Next up, CSI-W Thai Polo World Cup Showjumping. Sawasdee Krap is next