Equestrianism: Jumping given a timely lift: It has not been a good year for equestrianism, but Olympia helped redress the balance, Genevieve Murphy reports

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BRITISH show jumping needed a boost at the end of a tough year. Supporters had been dispirited by failure at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, shocked by the death of a horse at Wembley and all the acrimonious publicity that followed, and worried by the loss of a major sponsor, Henderson Unit Trust Management.

The lift that came from the hugely successful Olympia Show Jumping Championships, which ended on Sunday night, could not have been more welcome. Attendance figures, which showed an average of more than 89 per cent of seats sold during the five days, represented an increase in excess of three percentage points over 1991.

Michael Whitaker, riding Everest Midnight Madness, contributed a home victory in the Grand Prix and, most important of all, provided the audience with a spectacle they could relish.

Joy would have been unfettered had John Whitaker and Everest Milton, the grey idol of the crowded stands, managed to pull off a major triumph. However, a temporary eclipse of the old hero, whose only faults came through single errors in three of his five rounds, could not stifle the excitement engendered by younger stars.

Almox Ratina - the mare who carried Germany's Olympic champion, Ludger Beerbaum, to victory in Saturday's Volvo World Cup qualifier - was thrillingly agile. Her undoubted class made Michael Whitaker's Grand Prix victory all the sweeter; Ratina had jumped another scintillating round before being beaten into second place by the Briton on the nine-year-old, Midnight Madness.

Members of the new Show Jumping Supporters Club of Great Britain, which was launched at Olympia, now have good reason to hope that Midnight Madness will underline Whitaker's belief that this is the best horse he has ever ridden. Barring accidents, the attractive bay gelding seems certain to be his mount for next year's European Championships at Gijon in Spain.

The Olympia show is a great memorial to the late Raymond Brooks-Ward, who had been director from its inception in 1972. It was he who created the recipe: a mixture of top-class jumping, stirring displays and fun competitions. And before the inaugural Olympia, it was he who took on the task of persuading people to support the event.

Brooks-Ward left behind a well-trained team - including his son, Simon, who took over the role of director. Sponsors have yet to sign contracts for next year's show, but that should not prove a problem after the resounding success of last week's fixture.