Equestrianism: Skelton takes another stride towards Olympic qualification

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The Independent Online

Germany won the opening Nations Cup of this year's Samsung Super League series, displaying their strength in the run-up to the Olympic Games with victory over France and Belgium here yesterday. But Nick Skelton proved that he could have a mount to challenge the Germans for the individual medals when he rode Arko III to two flawless clear rounds for the British team that finished fourth.

"You normally get a horse like that once in a lifetime, but I've been lucky enough to have several," Skelton said. "Arko never gave me one minute of worry." Securing one of the two individual British places for Athens has been the top priority for Skelton, who came back to the sport after breaking his neck in a fall in 2000, and he now looks much closer to achieving his goal. He will hope to underline his claims when he rides the stallion in tomorrow's Grand Prix and when he jumps him in the next two Super League shows in Rome and Lucerne.

There were mixed fortunes for the other Britons. Robert Smith, who jumped a lovely clear first round on Mr Springfield, had four fences down at the second attempt. "The ground was cutting up and it was giving as they took off, which put the quick careful horses like Mr Springfield at a disadvantage," he said.

Michael Whitaker was disappointed with his first round total of 13 faults on Fleur, but he was heartened by the mare's improved performance for eight faults in the second round, especially as some of the fences had been raised. "I was very pleased by the way she got stuck in and I think that round will have brought her on,'' he said.

Scott Smith, considered the outsider of the team when it comes to securing an Olympic ticket, was happy to have made both his rounds on Cabri d'Elle contribute to the team's placing.

Skelton had one of the only three double clear rounds, the other two having been achieved by Marco Kutscher, for Germany, and Michel Hecart, for France. These two countries were level pegging at half-time on a zero score, until French errors opened the door for the powerful Germans. The result still hung in the balance, however, until Ludger Beerbaum, the last rider to jump, produced a splendidly determined clear round for Germany on Goldfever.

La Baule Super League Show (France): Samsung Super League Nations Cup: Results: 1 Germany 4 faults; 2 France 12; 3 Belgium 22; 4 Britain 29; 5 US 32; 6= Ireland and Netherlands 33; 8 Italy 44.