Individuals may have to put their team first

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The Independent Online
The new formula for the three-day event, which has separate team and individual contests for the first time, presents the New Zealand selectors with a dilemma, writes Genevieve Murphy.

Mark Todd would obviously like to go for a third individual gold medal; Vaughn Jefferis would love to hold the world and Olympic titles simultaneously. But letting them try for individual gold would mean leaving them off the team, which most nations regard as more important.

Whatever decision is made, the New Zealanders will be favourites, having filled five of the top eight places at Badminton this year. They were, however, beaten by the British team in the 1994 World Games and last year's European Open, so they are not invincible.

Mary King and Charlotte Bathe contributed to both those victories and they are expected to be in the team event, which starts on 21 July. Leslie Law and Ian Stark (the best two Britons at Badminton) would have a chance of medals in the individual event, which begins two days later, but they could be chosen for the team. The selectors' awkward decision may, in the end, depend on how well the horses have acclimatised to the heat and humidity of Atlanta.

Other strong squads will represent Australia (whose Matt Ryan won team and individual gold medals in 1992) and the United States (whose riders and horses are more used to the climate and could have a big advantage).

In dressage, Germany and the Netherlands are bound to have the two best places on the podium after the team contest on 27 and 28 July. The United States will probably finish third, even though British riders insist they are in with a chance of bronze medals.

The Britons have no hope of individual medals, now decided over two competitions: the Grand Prix Special (31 July) and the Freestyle to Music (3 August). This is likely to end in a close tussle between Germany's Isabel Werth and Anky von Grunsven of the Netherlands, who finished first and second in last year's European Open.

Last month's show in Aachen revealed the German show jumpers as an ominously powerful team. They won the Nations' Cup in superb style and Ludger Beerbaum, who was part of the winning quartet, triumphed in the Grand Prix.

Ronnie Massarella, the manager of the British team, admits that the Germans are "formidable", but he remains buoyant about the chances of his four riders, Geoff Billington, Nick Skelton and the two Whitaker brothers, in the team competition on 1 August.

Beerbaum, the Olympic champion, and Franke Sloothaak, who holds the world title, will be favourites for the individual show jumping on 4 August, the closing day of the Games. But the Britons will be in there fighting. Michael Whitaker, still hungry for his first win in a major championship, could even win the Olympic title if luck goes his way on Twostep.

BRITISH TEAMS: Three-day event (four to be chosen for team, three for individual): C Bathe (The Cool Customer), K Dixon (Too Smart), W Fox-Pitt (Cosmopolitan II), M King (King William), L Law (New Flavour), G Parsonage (Magic Rogue), I Stark (Stanwick Ghost). Reserves: C Hunnable (Mr Bootsie), Diamond Pedlar (L Jennings). Show jumping: G Billington (It's Otto), N Skelton (Showtime), J Whitaker (Welham), M Whitaker (Twostep). Reserve: R Smith (Tees Hanauer or Orthos). Dressage: J Bredin (Cupido), R Davison (Askari), J Jackson (Mester Mouse), V Thompson (Enfant). Reserves: S Phlueger (Fun), Dr W Bechtolsheimer (Giorgione).