Equestrianism: Leng returns to glory trail: Genevieve Murphy on the three-day event team expected to perform well for Britain at the Olympics

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The Independent Online
MARY THOMSON and Virginia Leng, who finished first and second at Badminton this year, were predictable choices for Britain's Olympic Games three-day event team which was announced yesterday. The same is true of Ian Stark and Richard Walker, the top two riders in last year's European Championships, who complete the team.

Barring last-minute injury, this immensely talented quartet will be strongly fancied for the team title which Britain last won in Munich 20 years ago. Thomson (on King William) and Leng (with Master Craftsman) are likely to start as joint favourites for the individual gold medal.

Stark is the only rider who will take two horses, Murphy Himself and Glenburnie, to Barcelona. The decision as to which of these two volatile greys he rides has yet to be taken, but Stark suspects that the selectors regard Murphy as their first choice.

This big, strong gelding, with a huge, ground-eating stride, has proved a little easier to control in his present bit - a Cherry Roller American gag. Stark has also started training him at a faster pace, which has made Murphy seem less inclined to take off with him in competition.

Leng's return to the team follows a frustrating year in 1991 when Master Craftsman missed Badminton in the spring through a minor injury and she herself was side-lined in the autumn with a broken leg, which prevented her from defending her European title.

All the horses selected, including Walker's Jacana, are brilliant performers across country. If luck is with them, they should be capable of reversing places with New Zealand, who defeated Britain at the 1990 World Equestrian Games. Australia and the United States may prove the best of the other 26 nations entered.

Karen Dixon, chosen as the travelling reserve on Get Smart, will join the four team members when they go into training at Badminton on Saturday. Owen Moore, who is the non-travelling reserve with Locomotion,will only go to Badminton if one of the five is forced to drop out through injury.

Restrictions on the number of riders and horses allowed into the Olympic complex means that Dixon and Get Smart will have to stay at separate bases. If they are required for the competition, the rider and horse they replace will have to leave the Olympic sites immediately to make room for their substitutes.

The horses fly from Bristol to Barcelona on 21 July to prepare for the event which begins six days later.

----------------------------------------------------------------- PROSPECTS FOR GOLD ----------------------------------------------------------------- VIRGINIA LENG ----------------------------------------------------------------- THE 37-year-old former world and European champion. She won team silver medals at the last two Olympics, plus the individual bronze in 1988 with Master Craftsman who will be her mount in Barcelona. Having missed Badminton in both 1990 and 1991, 'Crafty' made a splendid comeback to be runner-up there this year. ----------------------------------------------------------------- IAN STARK ----------------------------------------------------------------- A TEAM-MATE of Leng's when Britain was runner-up in the last two Olympics, the 38-year-old Scottish rider also won the individual silver medal in 1988 and the European title last year when he jumped a thrilling cross-country round on the hard-pulling Glenburnie. ----------------------------------------------------------------- MARY THOMSON ----------------------------------------------------------------- AGED 31, she learned to ride on the local vicar's pony at Salcombe Regis in Devon. She first competed for the British team in last year's European Championships. She has been chosen with this year's Badminton winner, King William, whose excellent dressage could give her an early lead. ----------------------------------------------------------------- RICHARD WALKER ----------------------------------------------------------------- WAS born in South Africa. At the age of 41, he still holds the record as the youngest Badminton victor, having won on Pasha in 1969 at the age of 18. He has twice won team gold and individual silver medals at the European Championships: in 1969 on Pasha and again, after a gap of 22 years, in 1991 on Jacana. -----------------------------------------------------------------