Whitaker, who was second in 1989 and third in 1993, was first to go in the jump-off. He opted for accuracy rather than speed on Everest Twostep and the ploy would have worked if the horse had not stroked a pole off the final fence.
Charles, who was born in England (where he is still based) has ridden for Ireland since 1991. He had the second fence down on La Ina and then accelerated with the obvious intention of defeating Whitaker's time. La Ina, a former Spanish team horse, responded gamely. Having cleared the rest of the course without further error, Charles became the first Irishman to win a major title.
John Whitaker, Michael's elder brother, had already been involved in a three-horse jump-off for the bronze medal - and he, too, was defeated when Welham hit two fences. The bronze eventually went to the defending champion, Switzerland's Willi Melliger on the huge grey Calvaro V.
Alison Bradley, the star of the British team that finished second on Saturday, when she jumped two marvellous clear rounds on Endeavour, had a total reverse of fortune yesterday.
Endeavour stopped at the third fence, where he seemed to be distracted by a member of the arena party, and lowered three fences before Bradley wisely retired him. She had been lying equal first overnight - together with Charles and another English-born rider, Lesley McNaught-Mandli
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