Equestrianism: Whitaker vows British revival

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The Independent Online

The British team were trailing in 11th place after yesterday's opening leg of the show jumping championship at the World Equestrian Games here.

The Netherlands hold an early lead over the United States (whose Beezie Madden is leading individual) as they go into the today's first half of the two-round Nations Cup-type contest that decides the destination of the team title. Brazil, Belgium and Spain hold the next three places, with the Germans lying sixth.

Britain's troubles began yesterday morning when Marius Claudius, the intended mount of Robert Smith, was found to be lame with a bruised off-fore foot and had to be withdrawn.

Smith's place was taken by Nick Skelton, who had come here as reserve rider with the grey stallion Russel - his top mount, Arko III, having been injured.

John Whitaker gave the team a heartening start with a clear round on Peppermill, but his time was moderate and he had drifted down to 28th place (which was best of the British) by the end of the marathon contest between 116 riders.

Tim Gredley (20 years old, and less than half the age of his team-mates) then added an eight-second penalty for two fences down to his fast time. Skelton, who jumped in a heavy shower when the ground was sloshy, had two down in a slower time. His became the discard score when Michael Whitaker made a single error coming out of the double of water ditches at fence nine and slotted into 46th, one place ahead of Gredley.

The team had come here with the aim of finishing in the top five and so qualifying for the Olympics, but they will have to improve on yesterday's form to achieve that goal.

"We'll keep slogging on," said John Whitaker, who will be aware that Britain are only just over two fences behind the leading Dutch riders and that the goal is not yet out of reach.