Questions & Answers with Alban Poudret: Organizer of the CHI of Geneva

As Sport Director at CHI Geneva, please tell us about your role and your team

I have been Sport Director at CHI Geneva for the past 30 years. Before that, I was involved in the commentary team and did some other little jobs at the show. My role involves being responsible of both the sport, as well as the entertainment – this includes attractions, displays and the whole spectacle of the show. We have an incredible team – Sophie [Mottu Morel], Michel [Sorg] and I, we are great trio, and we discuss all of our ideas together. I pitch new ideas and how to fund them, then if we are happy we will present the ideas to the whole committee.

The committee is made up of 25 people, and then there is a sub-committee that is made up of 10 people, who are focused on equestrianism. The other 15 members are non-equestrians and are, for example, architects, finance or security specialists, who ensure the show is a success and runs as smoothly as possible.

The sub-committee meets regularly, and we all share our thoughts and opinions of the different concepts. It is a very democratic process, and we ensure that the majority agrees with the ideas before we implement them.

During the show, we have extra support from other people, such as Philippe Guerdat, who is the father of Steve. Philippe stopped his jumping career in 1996 and since then he has helped me behind-the-scenes at CHI Geneva. He speaks with the riders about the ground, their wishes and how we can improve things. There are so many people who help to make this show the success that it is today.

We heard you love your statistics – which are your favourite statistics from the last 30 years?

Yes, I love statistics and facts – I spend a lot of time collating them, especially historical facts and looking back at all of the different generations of the sport. For my magazine [Le Cavalier Romand], I have collated the medallists of all the different championships since 1912, as well as the winners of all the major Grands Prix of the last century. Ludger Beerbaum has won the most, with John Whitaker second, Rodrigo Pessoa third, Steve Guerdat fourth and Hans-Günter Winkler fifth – it is very interesting to compare and contrast different generations.

At CHI Geneva, we did not have a list of the champions of the major classes, so I created a record of all of the different winners. Steve Guerdat has won 12 major classes at CHI Geneva, including three Rolex Grands Prix and two Rolex IJRC Top 10 Finals. Rodrigo Pessoa has won 10 of the major classes and Kent Farrington nine.

This year we invited Francisco “Paco” Goyoaga Mollet, a U25 Spanish rider, to compete at CHI Geneva. He came to speak to me at CHIO Aachen, and he told me that his grandfather won the Grand Prix at CHI Geneva twice. In addition, he won the Trophée de Genève and the Nations Cup here – up until 1983 we were allowed to have Nations Cup competitions indoors, but since then in Europe they have to be held outdoors.

In your time working at CHI Geneva, how have you seen the quality of the sport positively develop?

I have to say it’s changed incredibly. Thirty years ago, perhaps eight or ten riders could win the Grand Prix on Sunday, but these days 30 out of the 40 starters are in contention. It’s not even guaranteed that the best riders will even qualify for the Rolex Grand Prix. It’s remarkable how close the competition is nowadays, and I do wonder if it will continue to always be like this. The horses today are so good – this means you have to have an almost perfect horse to be in with a chance of winning. The riders’ technique has also improved a lot, the size of the riders’ teams have grown, and overall everything is just so professional. So, sometimes I think where can we go next. In the end, I realise that the situation is fair, which in part is testament to the course designers, who are very clever, and they understand they have to push the riders and their horses, but only very delicately and gradually.

As organisers, we also have a responsibility for the evolution of the sport; for example, to ensure we keep the door open to allow future show jumping talent to compete and develop. We are proud to have invited Victor Bettendorf from Luxembourg, who has had so many 4* Grands Prix victories, but has not had the chance to ride in the 5* shows and last night he was second in the Trophée de Genève!

We have a lot of offers from riders to pay to participate at CHI Geneva, but we are determined to always refuse, to keep our values and our philosophy, which is to ensure that the most talented athletes compete here and not just those who are able to pay. As organisers, we have a big responsibility to safeguard the evolution of the sport.

What is your personal highlight of CHI Geneva?

We have had so many amazing moments. Steve’s [Guerdat] first win in the Grand Prix here in 2006 was incredibly special. He won with Jalisca Solier, who he had only had since September 2006 and had never jumped in a 5* Grand Prix before. The day he got the horse, he rang me and said that he thought with that mare he could win the Grand Prix at CHI Geneva and go to the Beijing 2008 Olympics (Hong Kong) – and he did both. Since then, Steve has won CHI Geneva’s Rolex Grand Prix twice and the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final twice, but I think his first win was the most emotional.

Another highlight for me was watching the incredible Martin Fuchs win the Rolex Grand Prix last year to make it a historic two wins in a row. This year I am really looking forward to Sunday for the incredible Clooney’s [51] retirement ceremony.

Last year we introduced the indoor cross-country, where Swiss rider Robin Godel won the class. He had a really tough year, as he sadly lost his horse during the cross-country phase of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It was really nice that he was able to end his year on a high and go into 2022 with a positive mindset.

Next year marks 10 years since the launch of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping; what has been your favourite memory?

I have two favourite memories. Firstly, it was incredible to watch Nick Skelton and Big Star win the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. It was one of the most magical horse and rider combinations, and to have them win the first Rolex Grand Prix, as part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping at CHIO Aachen was such a special occasion. Then, watching Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos win three Majors in a row was phenomenal, particularly as we thought we would have to wait 20 or 30 years or even more to see someone accomplish this incredible feat. We knew our concept was victorious, not only Scott!

Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

Photo: © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder

Categories: English, Interviews