World Singles Driving Championships

Anders Jonsson of Sweden leads the World Singles Driving Championships after the first day of dressage; U.S. driver Fred Merriam is in ninth place.
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Anders Jonsson of Sweden leads the World Singles Driving Championships after the first day of dressage; U.S. driver Fred Merriam is in ninth place.

Conty, France, Aug. 29, 2002--At the end of the first day of competition at the World Single Driving Championships, in which 27 of the 54 competitors completed the dressage phase, Anders Jonsson from Sweden is leading the field on a score of 40.8.

The last of the day's competitor to go, Jonsson had to beat the score of 42.2 set by Di Hayes from Great Britain. Fourth to go with her flamboyant Hackney Hamewith Culmellie, Hayes drove a measured and accurate test earning her first place from two judges. This allowed her to overtake the home nation's Anne-Violaine Brisou who, driving the National Stud's 10-year-old Selle Fran?ais Boy des Combes HN, had set an early lead of 42.8.

Not until Jonsson entered the arena as the last competitor to go in this half of the field did there look to be a serious challenge to these two competitors. His smooth test and particularly high marks from one judge gave him first place at this halfway stage.

Jonsson is an experienced driver although he was not a member of the gold-winning team at the last single driving championship at Ebbs, Austria, 1998. A painter by profession, he has been driving since 1990. His previous world championship experience was in Sandringham, England, in 1995, when he drove a pair of horses. The horse he is driving here at Conty is a 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood, Ferrari. Jonsson bought the horse as a 2-year-old, and has been competing with him for 5 years.

Of his performance today, he remarked: "My horse felt happy and relaxed as soon as he entered the arena and the test went well."

Nineteen nations are represented at this world championship including the U.S. and Canada. The first to go after the lunchtime break today was the U.S.'s Fred Merriam with his Morgan horse Gatwood Lightwing; he put up a good performance to earn a score of 47, placing him ninth at this point.

This is the second world single driving championship--the first was held in Austria four years ago. The 2000 world championship scheduled for Gladstone, New Jersey, was cancelled because of the West Nile virus threat.

Competition continues tomorrow with the remainder of the competitors driving their dressage test.