Equestrianism: Brakewell's key job in British challenge

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The Independent Online
JEANETTE BRAKEWELL will be first to go for the British team that has the crucial responsibility of qualifying for the Olympics this weekend, when they contest the European Three-Day Event Championships, which begin this morning with the first day of dressage.

Brakewell, who rides her World Equestrian Games partner Over to You, will be followed by Kristina Gifford on The Gangster II, Pippa Funnell on Supreme Rock and the sole man on the team, Ian Stark on this year's Badminton winner Jaybee. Rodney Powell on Flintstone IV and Katie Parker on Cornish Envoy will compete as individuals.

The four team members are well aware of the need for Olympic qualification, having heard it mentioned ad nauseam, but there are no signs that they are feeling the pressure.

"Nothing fires people up more than going out to prove something," Christopher Bartle, the Great Britain team manager, said. "We couldn't ask for a better bunch of riders and horses, so I'm very optimistic. We will focus on producing the best performance possible from each horse and rider combination."

Nine European teams will be aiming to gain one of the three remaining Olympic places on offer here. On past form the British should not find that too difficult, but qualification is far from being a mere formality. A minimum of three team members are required to complete the contest, so it would only need one rider to retire after a fall and one horse to be lame at the final inspection on Sunday for the British to miss out.

Such negative thoughts, however, are not being allowed to hamper the British effort. According to Mandy Stibbe, chairman of the British selectors, they will also be aiming to retain the team title, won two years ago at Burghley.

"We must get it right, we need something positive to happen to the sport," Ian Stark, the most experienced member of the team, said. The Scot was thinking of the four rider fatalities and the Coral Cove doping saga, which have made such unhappy headlines for British eventing this year.

Brakewell and Over to You, who were 26th at the World Games and ninth at this year's Badminton, have an excellent record across country and everyone hopes that they will enhance it here on Saturday, when they tackle Wolfgang Feld's technical course of 28 fences.

Gifford and Stark were the other two obvious team selections, but Funnell said that she was "quite surprised and not really expecting it." Having won medals back in the late 1980s at the three Young Riders European Championships which she contested, she is now delighted to be on the senior team for the first time.

Stark, who has competed here on five previous occasions, has mixed memories of Luhmuhlen. In 1987 he won team gold and individual silver medals in the European Championships. On another memorable visit he had a fall in the show jumping and dropped from third to 21st place.

"The course is lovely, with a huge amount of accuracy required," Stark said of Saturday's cross-country track. "Wolfgang's been really clever. Instead of using huge four-star dimensions, he's tested the riders and made us think."

They will have to have their thinking caps in place early, in time for the complicated water complex that comprises fences four to seven. Taken the direct way, this requires five jumping efforts and, according to Bartle, is likely to be "significant".

Feld, who has designed the courses here since 1975, has a similar philosophy to that of the late Colonel Frank Weldon, who used to be responsible the courses at Badminton. He says that he likes to frighten the riders without hurting any of the horses.