It was the silence that said the most in Geneva. When Steve Guerdat entered Palexpo Arena, billed as the largest indoor arena in the world, the thousands who were watching, talking, lifting glasses and waving signs from their places in the stands all fell equally silent in rapt attention.
That is how seriously they take their sport in Switzerland. Or rather, that is how deeply they love their country’s top rider. At this year’s edition of the CHI Geneve, Guerdat wrote a perfectly scripted ending for Swiss show jumping fans when he won the 2015 Rolex Grand Prix. For Guerdat, Geneva’s been a charmed place; he won the same class in 2013, and in 2014 placed 3rd, all with his superstar of a partner, Nino Des Buissonnets.
“I treat it as a championship,” Guerdat said about coming to Geneva. That’s not only because it’s the biggest annual competition in his country, but also because the quality of the entire production is unmatched.
From the moment one arrived at Geneva, whether it’s to do a job or enjoy a weekend holiday, all needs were met. Riders and grooms enjoyed the help of dozens of volunteers who unloaded their trucks in minutes and got them set up in the stabling. For the media, it was a relief to find a super organized press room – always critical if a show hopes to get news of their events out to the world in a quick and professional manner. Pro tip: you can win over the media’s heart by providing good food, endless coffee and fast Internet. Geneva had all at the ready.
The entire show is held under one roof the size of an airplane hanger (and it very well could have originally built as one, given its location directly adjacent to Geneva Airport.) Warmup, vendors, stables and the massive main arena are all laid out in a space so big that even echoes are lost.
A nonstop schedule of events surrounding the main show jumping competition kept the place buzzing from first thing in the morning until late, very late at night. World Cup Combined Driving, indoor eventing, amateur classes, young horse presentations, horseball and vaulting demonstrations and a special performance by dressage Olympians Morgan Barbacon and Painted Black carried on through the weekend on a well-choreographed schedule. It’s the kind of place where you can see it all, or see what you like and go on to other things.
Swiss people are a straightforward, “get on with it” bunch, and despite security concerns swirling around the city that were related to the Paris terrorist attacks, the educated Swiss show jumping public still showed up in droves to attend the show. While the international mainstream news cycle was working itself up into hysteria, CHI Geneva went on without a misstep, albeit with extra security checks at the door that everyone was glad to see.
The Rolex IJRC Top Ten Final has a fitting home in Geneva, where it’s been held for 10 of its 15 years. As Friday night’s main attraction, the class welcomed ten of the very best athletes in the sport for a head to head competition that was won by a very happy Kent Farrington. The arena at Geneva has the very unique distinction of riding like both an indoor and an outdoor space – combined with the big gallops were technical questions that dared riders to take the short track around a corner. And of course, the man-made lake at the top of the ring, used in the indoor eventing and also a speed class, isn’t seen in any other indoor in the world.
So, there was a lot to cheer for in Geneva. Literally, lots to cheer for, scream for, and pound the bleachers for. Along with Guerdat, Swiss riders Janika Sprunger and SPEED picked up CSI5* wins for Switzerland, and French rider Roger Yves Bost had a good show as well, with two big wins on separate days aboard Sydney Un Prince.
But when this year’s CHI Geneva is talked about and remembered for years to come, the first name on everyone’s lips will be that of Guerdat. No one who was there will forget his redemption-tinged win (read more about that here). If Guerdat didn’t already know it, he was reminded of the support Switzerland gives him by the silence that came over the whole place when he came in for the jumpoff round, and the thunderous celebration when he proved to them that he was worth cheering for.