OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Stark lifts Britain to lead in dressage: Equestrianism

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The Independent Online
THE British team held the lead after the dressage phase of the three-day event was completed here yesterday, leaving riders to concentrate on the serious hazards in today's cross-country.

Matthias Baumann, a 29-year-old German vet, has retained the individual advantage that he held on Monday evening, but British riders now fill the next three places. Ian Stark, who rode his dressage test yesterday on Murphy Himself, has moved into second place after gaining the best marks he has achieved on the strong-willed grey gelding.

Murphy was calm and responsive yesterday. 'It may have been the heat that sobered him up, but I like to think he's getting older and wiser,' Stark said. The Scot, who is reigning European champion, is now ahead of Karen Dixon on Get Smart and Mary Thomson on King William - the two Britons who were second and third overnight.

Stark was delighted that two of the three sections which precede today's cross-country have been reduced in length, because of the extreme heat and humidity which is forecast.

Mike Tucker, the former British international rider who is acting as technical delegate here, announced that the steeplechase has been reduced to four minutes (from four and a half) and that two kilometres have been taken off the second section of roads and tracks, originally due to cover 11 kilometres.

Mark Todd, the double Olympic champion who moved into fifth place yesterday on Welton Greylag, was equally pleased. He had voiced the riders' feelings, in his role as chairman of the International Event Riders Association, when he asked for the overall length of the course to be reduced.

Todd has helped to restore Kiwi morale with his brilliant riding yesterday on Welton Greylag, a horse that has his limitations in dressage. The New Zealanders needed a fillip after their world champion, Blyth Tait, had a desperately fraught ride on Messiah on Monday, which has left him 69th of the 82 starters at the end of the dressage.

'We're a pretty tough lot, we don't go down easy,' Todd said of his team, who are fourth but must still be regarded as the one Britain have to beat. Todd believes that dressage marks will play a fairly unimportant part in the final placings.

The New Zealander is not merely bolstering his team-mates when he says that today's cross-country course ('which is bigger than the other two Olympics I've ridden in') will be even more influential than usual.