Billington provides Britain with a fillip

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The Independent Online
Geoff Billington restored British morale at the Georgia International Horse Park, Conyers, yesterday with a brilliant round on It's Otto in the individual qualifier, writes Gillian Newsum.

A clear round with just 0.25 time penalties put Billington on course for an individual medal and raised hopes for Britain's prospects in the team competition on Thursday.

Yesterday's class, the first show-jumping contest of the Olympics, had started badly for Britain when Michael Whitaker had a disastrous round on Two Step, lowering four fences and refusing at the seventh. The horse looked uncomfortable and was unwilling to go forward. "It was like riding a four-year-old," Whitaker said.

He thinks the horse may have pulled a muscle in his back when he was jumping a practice fence two days ago. After his successful recovery from a fall in Bordeaux in March, when he cracked two bones in his withers, there is now concern that the accident-prone Two Step will be unfit to compete in Thursday's Nations Cup. "It may just be that the horse was a bit dehydrated," said the team manager, Ronnie Massarella. "He is under treatment and we hope to have him right for Thursday."

There was more disappointment when Nick Skelton produced a 12-fault round on Show Time. But Skelton was quite happy with the way the 11-year-old mare had jumped and thought she was unlucky to have the last fence down as well as the rustic rails at fence 11 - these face directly into the sun and were difficult to see against the sand arena.

Fortunately John Whitaker, who was last to go for Britain, produced an impressive round on Welham, just clipping the first part of the treble, the penultimate obstacle, to finish on four faults.

The course, which was visually unexciting, caused more trouble than expected and only seven riders went clear within the time. These included the reigning Olympic champion, Ludger Beerbaum, of Germany, and the American riders Leslie Burr-Howard (Extreme) and Anne Kurinski (Eros).