Equestrianism: Davenport starts Britain's chase for Athens Olympic place

By tomorrow evening, British show jumping supporters will know whether to book flights to Athens for next year's Olympic Games. So will fans from 12 other European countries - notably Ireland, Switzerland, Italy and Spain - who are also looking to gain one of the last three Olympic places when the European Show Jumping Championships begin here today. The Irish are here to defend their European team title as well.

Richard Davenport, aged 23 and a newcomer to the senior British team, will be first to go on Luc in today's opening speed leg.

He will be followed by Nick Skelton on Arko III, Michael Whitaker on Fleur and Robert Smith on Mr Springfield. All four horses jumped clear over the short warm-up course yesterday morning.

This took place in bright sunshine, before the heavens opened and drenched the attractive showground. Thanks to extensive work to improve the ground in the main arena, the going was not seriously effected by the deluge - but a subsequent class for non-championship was cancelled.

The French must be favourites for the team championship, which will be decided after a two-round contest tomorrow. They have their Olympic qualification - as do Sweden, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands - so they will be able to concentrate on adding the European championship to their world title.

Though a ticket to Athens remains the principle objective for Britain, Derek Ricketts, their team manager, believes that a team medal could be within reach.

Robert Smith, who jumped a double clear round for the team in Dublin and was also fourth in the Grand Prix with Mr Springfield, looks to have the best chance of collecting an individual medal.

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