OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Equestrianism: Britain stay in sight of gold

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The Independent Online
NEW ZEALAND held a slender lead over Britain when the cross-country phase of the three-day event was completed here yesterday, leaving the prospect of nerve- racking tension in today's final show jumping. The Kiwis can afford only one error - for the cost of five penalties - to be certain of keeping the British at bay.

Though marks are spread wider in the individual category, the two leaders - Australia's Matthew Ryan and New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson - have genuine cause for concern. Ryan's Kibah Tic Toc lowered five show jumps at Badminton this year and any similar lapse today could drop him back to ninth place.

Nicholson's mount, Spinning Rhombus (now lying second, 5.4 penalties behind the leader) was reported to be lame when he finished the cross-country, so there is no certainty that he will pass this morning's fourth inspection. If he fails, New Zealand will be out of the team contest.

A mere 0.8 points separates the next three individuals - Germany's Herbert Blocker on Feine Dame, and two British riders, Mary Thomson on King William and Ian Stark on Murphy Himself, who are both within range of an individual medal.

Yesterday's sweltering day of drama had begun with disappointment for Britain when Richard Walker was unseated after Jacana stopped at the 16th fence (a stout rail at the top of an incline, followed by a downhill slope to a tree- trunk jump into water). Walker flew over the fence without his horse.

'Jacana didn't have as much pace as he needed when we reached the fence,' Walker said. 'He did not say 'I'm not going to jump it', he said 'How can I?' ' This one error in an otherwise excellent round cost 80 penalties - 20 for the refusal and 60 for the fall.

Karen Dixon, the next British rider, was instructed to play for safety by taking some of the slower options on Get Smart. She jumped a splendid clear round for the team, but her 38.8 time penalties dropped her from third to eighth.

Thomson was also thinking of the team, who will surely win silver (if not gold) today unless overtaken by some unpredictable misfortune. She took the difficult direct route at fence six, went the slow way as instructed at the 13th and (because the horse was pulling like a train) took a couple of other slow safe options as well. Thomson nevertheless retained her overnight fourth place.

Stark, last to go for Britain on the headstrong phenomenon, Murphy Himself, was left to choose his own routes. He went the quick way at fences six and 13, drawing the usual gasps of amazement as he leapt through them.

The grey gelding then extricated himself from disaster when he jumped boldly out of water on to a platform at fence 18 and came so close to the rails which followed that a fall seemed unavoidable. Murphy, nevertheless, scraped over to stay on his feet and Stark performed an incredible balancing act to stay with him.

The Scot's time would have been faster had Murphy not expended unnecessary energy by fighting for his head. He was a tired horse towards the end of the course, where Stark left him to choose his own pace.

New Zealand's Mark Todd, who was aiming for his third successive Olympic victory, is out of the contest. He retired at the end of the steeplechase after his mount, Welton Greylag, went lame.

(Photograph omitted)