Equestrianism: Skelton and Whitaker in triple assault on Olympia

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The Independent Online
NICK SKELTON returns to international competition for the first time since breaking his collar-bone when he takes part in the Olympia Show Jumping Championships, which begin their five-day run in London this afternoon. Skelton's injury, sustained in a fall at the end of October, is still causing pain - not so much while he is riding as afterwards - and may be a trapped nerve.

Having missed the big show in Paris last weekend, Skelton is determined to compete at Olym-pia with three horses: David Broome's O'Harry, Elastique (a nine-year-old gelding who joined his string a fortnight ago) and Flits van de Groodistraati.

The Irish-bred O'Harry, who has had an enforced rest because of his rider's injury, will probably be Skelton's mount in tomorrow's "pre-qualifier" for Saturday's World Cup contest. Rules now stipulate that the top two home riders in tomorrow's class will be among the 20 who go through.

With all due respect to Skelton, John Whitaker is the rider that the enthusiastic audience will be most anxious to see in Saturday's big contest. According to research carried out at Olympia last year, the elder Whitaker brother is by far the most popular competitor.

Last year John Whitaker won the World Cup contest on Virtual Village Grannusch. This time he plans to ride Welham, always assuming that the 19-year-old does not have a recurrence of the lameness which kept him out of action in Paris last weekend. Whitaker also rides nine-year-old Steps Helsinki and the 13-year-old grey stallion Randi.

The best British results in recent weeks have come from Geoff Billington on It's Otto (the Grand Prix victor in Berlin) and Michael Whitaker with eight-year-old Prince of Wales (winner of the Gold Cup in Munich). This week they take on a formidable invasion of overseas riders as they compete for a total prize fund of pounds 220,000.

The six visitors from Germany look particularly dangerous. They include two Olympic champions (Ludger Beerbaum and Ulrich Kirchhoff), a former holder of the world title (Franke Sloothaak) and the in-form Helena Weinberg.

Weinberg was given her place while Rene Tebbel was being investigated for the alleged use of an illegal substance under his horse's bandages, which caused hypersensitivity. The International Equestrian Federation has now banned the German for eight months.