Britain collected their fifth successive set of team gold medals when the European Three-Day Event Championships were completed here yesterday, defeating a formidable quartet from France whose youngest rider, the brilliant 23-year-old Nicholas Touzaint on Galan de Sauvagere, won the individual title with a fence in hand. Linda Algotsson, of Sweden, was the silver medallist, with Pippa Funnell moving up from fifth overnight to take the bronze.
Since she was riding the inexperienced Walk On Star, Funnell was concentrating on putting on a good performance for the team rather than thinking about the possibility of winning her third individual title in a row. Her third place was therefore a bonus, especially as it underlined the credentials of her 10-year-old mount.
Though the British team eventually finished with 12.6 penalties in hand, nothing could be taken for granted until Funnell had gone clear in yesterday's show jumping and Leslie Law, lying fourth and best of the British after Saturday's cross-country, had completed the course with a single error to secure the team victory and retain his individual fourth place. Mary King, riding as an individual for Britain, finished fifth on King Solomon III.
The seeds of the British team victory had been sown during Saturday's cross-country phase in which Law, who had a new experience in going first for the team, was the only rider to achieve the time - finishing bang on the optimum of 10min 35sec with Shear l'Eau. When he saw Yogi Breisner jumping up and down, he thought that the team manager was delighted with his clear round. "It felt fantastic, though I didn't yet know that I'd made the time, let alone that I was bang on it."
Breisner's joy turned to concern when Jeanette Brakewell and the normally reliable Over to You, who had been jumping brilliantly, had a fall when floundering out of water at the 20th fence. "I'm not quite sure what happened, but it looks as though we didn't get to the bank on three strides," Brakewell said yesterday. "One minute we were going through the water, the next minute I was on my side."
The two remaining British team riders then played for safety by taking the longer route at this obstacle, which proved the most troublesome. Following Funnell's welcome clear round, Britain's hopes of a team medal of any colour were nevertheless almost drowned in the River Rock Falls (fence 13), where William Fox-Pitt's Moon Man trod on his over-reach boot as he landed in the water. Having stumbled precariously, the horse did well to stay on his feet and Fox-Pitt did even better to stay in his saddle.
With Britain and France already through to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the three qualifying places on offer here went to Belgium, Ireland and Austria. Notwithstanding the British victory, they will all be aware that the French riders and horses could be just as hard to beat if they mature, as seems likely, into an even more formidable team next year.