Olympic Games / Equestrianism: Injury to Master Craftsman ends Leng's Games

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VIRGINIA LENG has been forced to withdraw from Britain's three- day event team for the Olympic Games after her horse, Master Craftsman, sustained an injury during team training at Badminton last week. The news, announced yesterday, represents yet another blow for Leng who has had more than her share of disappointment in recent years.

Master Craftsman has a slight sprain on his near fore-fetlock joint. He twisted the same joint in the spring of 1990, when he was unable to compete at Badminton or the World Equestrian Games. Last year a freak knock in his stable kept him out of Badminton; he was ready to start his autumn campaign when Leng broke her own leg in a fall with another mount.

Leng's place in the British three-day event team will be taken by the reserve rider, Karen Dixon on Get Smart. She joins Ian Stark, Mary Thomson and Richard Walker, who were her team-mates when Britain won last year's European Championships.

There is now no reserve and only Stark has two horses flying to Barcelona today. Should the mount of any other rider sustain an injury before the Olympic event begins next Monday, Britain would be reduced to a team of three and there would be no discard score; every penalty would have to count.

British officials are, nevertheless, still hopeful. 'We are all very disappointed about Master Craftsman,' Jane Holderness- Roddam, chairman of the selection committee, said. 'However we all feel that with the same team that won the European Championships we have an equally strong chance of bringing back medals.'

Sadly, the prospect of bringing back gold medals does look less rosy, but no one (least of all the New Zealanders who are Britain's strongest rivals) would rule out the possibility.

Leng's contribution to the official statement said: 'It is very fortunate that we have an experienced reserve rider and I wish the team every success.'

These were typical words of encouragement, given at a time when her own hopes had been so cruelly shattered. When she was runner-up to Mary Thomson on King William at Badminton this year, her cross-country round on Master Craftsman had given her Olympic aspirations a tremendous boost. That performance in the mud was as close to perfection as we are ever likely to see.

Leng was due to fly to Barcelona today. Now she will stay behind, rueing the loss of her golden opportunity with the 12-year-old thoroughbred.

The furore that followed Jennie Loriston-Clarke's omission from the Olympic dressage team has led to Diana Mason resigning her post as chairman of the British Horse Society's dressage group after 17 1/2 years in office. Mason chaired the selection committee that left Loriston-Clarke as the team's reserve. However, Mason will be in Barcelona to help Britain's new young team, while David Hunt takes over as the group's chairman.

(Photograph omitted)