Equestrian: Zara Phillips and Team GB win silver medal in tense eventing final

 

Great Britain won a team silver medal in the eventing competition at Greenwich Park today.

It remains 40 years since Great Britain won gold for eventing but there has been no need for Baddiel and Skinner to write a song about it. Far from being years of hurt, they have been four rich decades of achievement in equestrianism, to which yesterday's silver in the team event added further distinction. It was a fifth runners-up finish in the team event during that time, and an improvement too on the bronze of four years ago. Yet had Zara Phillips managed a clear round, as she did later in the individual competition, instead of collecting seven penalty points, they would have won gold.

Emulating the individual gold to which Leslie Law was belatedly promoted in 2004 has proved more difficult. Yesterday afternoon Mary King on Imperial Cavalier had begun in third place but like Tina Cook on Miners Frolic, who had started fourth, she collected eight faults and dropped out of contention. In finishing a respectable fifth and sixth repectively their disappointment, mitigated by the team medal, was as nothing compared to poor Sara Algotsson Ostholt, one of two Swedish sisters competing, who only needed to jump the last fence to become the first woman to win the individual gold. The Swedish contingent leapt in the air in delight as she appeared to have done so, then held heads in hands as one bar dropped almost apologetically to the ground. So it was Michael Jung on Sam who stepped onto the top step of the podium, completing a double as part of Germany's winning team and becoming the first rider to hold world, European and Olympic titles simultaneously.

Germany had won four years ago too. Here they maintained their overnight lead of 5.50 penalty points on Great Britain, with

Sweden, third overnight, pushed down into fourth by New Zealand. There was an excellent performance by Ireland in taking fifth place ahead of both Australia and the underachieving United States, whose manager was Zara Phillips's father Mark Phillips, a gold medal winner on that last golden occasion 40 years ago.

William Fox-Pitt on Lionheart and King both had a double clear round (no faults and inside the allotted 83 seconds) to encourage thoughts of Britain's overdue first gold of the Games but in collecting seven penalty points, a disappointed Phillips on High Kingdom only just stayed in front of Fox-Pitt to qualify for the individual event. Like Nicola Wilson on Opposition Buzz, the other discarded rider, she hit the second fence, the “postbox”, which proved the most troublesome of the 12 for many competitors.

“I messed up,” Phillips said, adding a rueful comment about her mother the Princess Royal, who competed at Montreal in 1976: “He must have been thinking, ‘I wish your mum was riding.’” She could at least claim to have finished eighth in the individual event, as opposed to her mum's 24th, ending on a high with a polished clear round and moving up from her starting position of 13th as others faltered. Eventing world champion and Sports Personality of the Year in 2006, she will long remember her much delayed Olympic debut, having missed out in 2004 and 2008 because her horse Toytown was injured. A useful date to recall it by in years to come will be the first anniversary of her wedding to Mike Tindall, which fell on Monday, when her fine cross country round kept the team well in contention for yesterday's medal.

The 51 year-old King, at her sixth Olympics, completed a fine round in the team event but when the next rider into the arena Jung emulated her by going clear, Germany had the team gold with one ride to spare. “We were hoping to overtake the Germans but they put in a great performance and they deserve it,” she said. That left the last riders from Britain and New Zealand to decide the silver and bronze. The veteran Mark Todd who at 56 must make King feel like a youngster, incurred seven penalty points on Campino and Cook, who won bronze in team and individual events in Beijing, kept her nerve in a clear round with only one time point to earn silver for Britain. Her horse had almost died of colitis a year ago, requiring three blood transfusions, and having lost her father, the former champion jockey Josh Gifford too, it has been an emotional period for her. “It's been emotionally difficult but to come to the Olympics has been amazing and we've had a lot of fun,” she said.

So said just about every member of the British team and the same sentiment must have applied to the majority of spectators in a near full house at the 21,000-capacity arena, which is winning votes as the most spectacular setting of any venue at these Games. Fox-Pitt summed it up when he said: “As I trotted out, I thought we're never going to experience that [atmosphere] again”.

Greenwich is not finished yet with dressage, show jumping and modern pentathlon events to come, plus Paralympics, before the few local residents who objected to having the Olympics on their doorstep can have their park back again.

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