Equestrianism: Europe first as title falls to woman

ALEXANDRA LEDERMANN captured the individual title for France at the European Show Jumping Championships here yesterday, when she became the first woman to triumph since the competition became open to both sexes in 1975.

The British, who had won a medal every year from 1977 onwards, this time failed to collect one, though, ironically, the home team had connections with the other two riders on the podium.

Nick Skelton had sold Tinka's Boy to Marcus Fuchs of Switzerland, who collected individual silver with the chestnut stallion. Lesley McNaught, the bronze medallist, had ridden for Britain until taking Swiss nationality eight years ago.

British hopes rested with Geoff Billington, who had been a surprise choice for the team last week before he magnificently confounded his critics with two foot-perfect clear rounds on Virtual Village It's Otto in Friday's second leg of the contest.

Lying sixth after that achievement, Billington moved tantalisingly close to the top three when advancing to fourth after one error in the first round yesterday. However, another single mistake in the second round left him back where he started, in sixth place.

"You don't win medals without jumping clear rounds," Malcolm Pyrah, Britain's individual silver medallist in 1981, said. That point was proved by Fuchs, whose double clear on Tinka's Boy moved him up from 14th to 2nd place yesterday.

Ledermann, who progressed from fifth to first after her clear first round on Rochet M (winner of the individual Olympic bronze medal in 1996) had her temperament put to a serious test when Rochet hit an early fence in the second round.

"It was not a good feeling, I knew I could not have another fence down," the 30-year-old from Normandy said. She nevertheless kept her cool on the 16-year-old gelding, which she has ridden for seven years.

Results, Digest, page 11