Equestrianism: German best at daring in the rain

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The Independent Online
Two rounds of controlled daring left Germany's Ludger Beerbaum and Britain's John Whitaker holding the top two places in the European Show Jumping Championships, after the first of three legs was completed yesterday.

Whitaker had seemed to judge his faultless round in this speed contest to perfection when he took the lead on the youthful looking 17-year-old Virtual Village Welham. But Beerbaum, the 1992 Olympic champion, was always going to be a threat with the speedy mare Sprehe Ratina, who duly raced round the rain-sodden arena to take an invincible lead.

"I knew John was not going to make too many mistakes in the next two parts of the championship and I was not going to give up on the first day," Beerbaum said.

Germany are without their world champion, Franke Sloothaak, who injured himself when slipping up on some steps at home. Nevertheless, they also third place individually (through Lars Nieberg on For Pleasure) and the lead for the team title which will be decided after today's two-round contest. They are followed by Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the holders of the European team title which they won in St Gallen two years ago.

The St Gallen contest was more seriously marred by rain, with the Germans pulling out the day before the competition started because of the state of the grass arena. The Mannheim arena has an artificial surface, which was not too badly damaged by yesterday's relentless downpour.

Though it resembled the sea shore, horses were able to slap through the puddles without too much trouble. "The ground stood up well," John Whitaker said. "If it had been a grass arena, it would probably have been impossible to jump."

Geoff Billington, first to go for the British team yesterday, made his only mistake when It's Otto hit the oxer out of a double, the seventh of 14 fences. His time was moderate and, having incurred the five-second penalty for his error, he is in 26th place.

Michael Whitaker, who was clear until hitting the last fence on Ashley, went at a smarter pace and lies tenth. So, too, did Robert Smith who is 13th on Senator Tees Hanauer, the Dublin Grand Prix winner, who made his only mistake at the water.