Olympic Games: Equestrianism: Stark with Murphy Himself

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The Independent Online
Richard Walker and Jacana will be first to go for Britain when the three-day event begins here this morning with the first of two days of dressage. They will be followed by Karen Dixon on Get Smart, Mary Thomson on King William, and Ian Stark on Murphy Himself.

The order is the same as for last year's European Championships in which Stark rode Glenburnie to team and individual victories. His preference had recently veered towards Murphy and yesterday's announcement confirmed that the boisterous grey will be the Scot's Olympic partner.

Glenburnie may still have a minor Olympic role to play. Stark has offered to let the British modern pentathletes have some showjumping practice on his reserve horse before the final part of their contest on Wednesday.

All the British horses passed yesterday's veterinary inspection. But the mounts of two Bulgarians, who were hoping to field a full team, were ruled out. The country is now left with two individual riders, but no team.

Britain and New Zealand remain favourites for the team gold medal, to be contested by 19 nations. Stark, who is well fancied to add an individual gold to the silver he won in Seoul four years ago, believes that no-one will finish Wednesday's cross-country course of 33 fences within the optimum time.

'The fast routes are really serious and the slow ones could add half a mile to the journey,' Stark said. He thinks it will suit his bold and athletic partner, Murphy, and Thomson's mount, King William.

Most riders regard the fast route at fence 13 as the most serious. It involves jumping from a ramp over a ditch and curved wall, taking four strides to jump across another ditch to the top of a bank, then dropping down from the bank to take one short stride to a wall, which is followed by a big drop to water.

The one problem concerns humidity. Although, the high hills at the El Montanya golf course are less sweltering than Barcelona, some 45 miles south, conditions could still be debilitating.

Mark Todd, New Zealand's dual Olympics champion, made representations on behalf of the International Event Riders' Association to get the course shortened. He appeared to be given short shrift, but it was then revealed that contingency plans already existed. If the combination of heat and humidity are deemed too high, both the roads and tracks at the steeplechase (which precede the cross- country) will be reduced.