Equestrianism: Britain well placed after close encounter: Whitaker and Skelton raise hopes of team medal in European Championships

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BRITAIN are lying third, just behind Switzerland and Germany, in the European Show Jumping Championship. When seconds were converted into faults after yesterday's speed contest the marks were desperately close, with only 1.93 faults dividing the top three nations, which means the two-round competition that decides the team title today is likely to be a tense affair.

Michael Whitaker, on Everest Midnight Madness, and Nick Skelton, on Dollar Girl, were first and second respectively after swift and polished clear rounds yesterday until two of the last five competitors pushed them back to third and fourth, in the process depriving Britain of the lead.

Franke Sloothaak, of Germany, holds the individual lead on the blue-eyed chestnut mare, Weihaiwej, winner of the Grand Prix in La Baule this month. Willi Melliger, of Switzerland, on another mare, Quinta C, is second in the individual competition, to be decided on Sunday.

'I'm very pleased and quietly confident,' the British team manager, Ronnie Massarella, said of today's team final. Britain had a disappointing start when Mark Armstrong incurred a 14-second penalty for two fences down on Corella, but the gloom was dispersed by the younger Whitaker and Skelton. Had John Whitaker jumped clear with Gammon, Britain would be in front.

Rain had begun to fall before Gammon jumped and Massarella maintained that the horse had slipped on take-off at the seventh of the 14 fences, which is where he made his only mistake. 'It nearly went according to plan,' Massarella said. 'But we're very close and still in there fighting for gold medals.'

Skelton will be first to jump for Britain today, followed by Michael Whitaker and Armstrong. The unflappable John Whitaker goes last as usual as the team attempts to regain the title lost to the Netherlands two years ago.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 33