Equestrianism: Tebbel's bravery proves decisive

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By Genevieve Murphy

RENE TEBBEL and the 11-year-old stallion Radiator brought the Olympia Show Jumping Championships to a stirring climax last night, when the German rider abandoned thoughts of personal safety to jump a lightning clear round in the closing Traxdata Grand Prix.

In the 17-horse jump-off, Tebbel trumped two fine rounds from those who had immediately preceded him: Nick Skelton, who had scooted round on Virtual Village Hopes are High and Ludger Beerbaum, the European champion, who promptly edged ahead on PS Priamos. But Tebbel, forgetting about the shoulder he broke during the summer, then surged ahead by 1.41sec, leaving others to chase his time with little chance of catching him.

Nick Skelton had to wait until the closing day of the meeting before recording his first and only win with a polished display of speed and fluent turns. Riding 13-year-old Virtual Village Showtime, Skelton won the Eurosport Christmas Hamper by 1.31sec, defeating Ireland's Trevor Coyle on Vivaldi and Britain's Di Lampard on Equity.

It was a timely victory, since Skelton is about to be dropped from the Virtual Village team. Now looking for a new sponsor, he knows that winning is the best means to that end. He had produced a class round against the clock when riding Hopes Are High in the Traxdata World Cup qualifier on Saturday, when he achieved the fastest time only to topple a plank off the final fence.

Showtime, owned by Sue Welch and who has twice won the Horse of the Year Show Grand Prix, has been with Skelton for seven years. The mare may be slightly overshadowed nowadays by the younger Hopes Are High, but she can still produce some sparkling performances.

After his own swift round, Skelton had been particularly worried by two of his remaining opponents: John Whitaker and Belgium's Philippe le Jeune. Whitaker was eliminated when 18-year-old Virtual Village Welham knew better than his rider. Landing over the fourth fence, the horse should have turned left. Instead he jumped the fence immediately ahead of him and that was the end of Whitaker's chance.

Le Jeune had been nipping round smartly until his mount, Valiska Forever, was caught unawares by the penultimate obstacle which was a small "bounce" - a double in which there was no room for a non-jumping stride - and he stopped there.

Beat Mandli, from Switzerland, won the earlier P&O Events Christmas Eve Six Bar on Gravur 004 - a nine-year-old he has been riding for only three weeks. "He is very careful and has a good brain," Mandli said, after jumping four clear rounds to gain his first win with the horse.

Second place was shared by Andrew Davies on Satchmo and Rene Tebbel on Le Patron.