Equestrianism: Schaeffer shows Australia the way

OLYMPIC GAMES
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The Independent Online
The Australian team won a deserved second consecutive gold medal in the three-day event which was completed at the Georgia International Horse Park yesterday. They won by a decisive 57.25 points margin from the United States, with New Zealand just 7.45 penalties behind for bronze.

The British team finished a despondent fifth, having moved up a place when Ireland were unable to complete the event as a team. Two Irish horses, Alfie Buller's Sir Knight and Eric Smiley's Enterprise, were withdrawn at the morning's inspection owing to slight unsoundness.

The team event was generally considered a success. There are more veterinary surgeons present here than there are horses, in anticipation of the hot and humid conditions. However, the heat has been so alleviated by the cooling systems and careful monitoring of each horse's temperature and heart rate that none appeared to become distressed.

An inexperienced Brazilian, Andre Giovanini, was eliminated for "excessive pressing of a tired horse", thus knocking out his whole team, but this was a result of rider error rather than heat stress.

There was a noticeable emphasis on "the team" now that the contest for individual medals is separate. Wendy Schaeffer, who would have taken the individual gold as well as the team medal under the usual formula, was asked if she felt deprived: "No. We always knew this would be a team effort, a shared experience. We got so much support and help from each other, and it was a privilege to be a part of it." Her colleague Philip Dutton on True Blue Girdwood would have taken a silver medal, too, while the third-best performance came from Blyth Tait on Chesterfield.

Schaeffer, still recovering from a broken leg, and the little horse she has had since she was 11 years old, Sunburst, outshone them all. Having blazed a trail around the cross-country course, yesterday they completed the only clear round for the Australians. Both Andrew Hoy and Dutton made two mistakes, but the team were never in danger. Both David and Karen O'Connor jumped clear, but Bruce Davidson finished with 16.50 penalties on the less experienced Heyday.

The American team paid tribute to their British coach, Mark Phillips, who has put such effort and expertise into raising them to this high standard.

Britain's Ian Stark had an unhappy time. Stanwick Ghost hit three obstacles, though he will surely improve for this experience. William Fox-Pitt's Cosmopolitan and Gary Parsonage's Magic Rogue each had one fence down, but Karen Dixon ended on a better note with a slower but clear round on Too Smart.

Charlotte Bathe, last of Britain's three individual competitors to ride the dressage phase, achieved a personal best with The Cool Customer. Her 49.8 is just behind Chris Hunnable with Mr Bootsie, but no one challenged the leader, Mary King, who goes into the cross country today with King William on 31.60. David O'Connor came closest on his second ride Custom Made with 37.60.

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