Despite the collective will of nearly all of the 21,000 faithful in the Greenwich grandstands, Great Britain's showjumpers could not gallop on from team gold on Monday to individual glory of any metal yesterday. But it was only by the narrowest of margins that Nick Skelton and Scott Brash missed out; one fence down apiece in the tense final stages relegated them instantly from medal contenders to joint-fifth place, as Swiss rider Steve Guerdat took gold.
Just six of 37 starters progressed to the second of two rounds on a zero score, including Skelton, veteran of five previous games, and Olympic rookie Brash. The first of the faultless to ride again, Irish rider Cian O'Connor, left the fences up second time around but incurred one time penalty, matching the cumulative score of Dutchman Gerco Schröder, who did the same in the first round.
Guerdat, on the French-bred gelding Nino des Buissonnets, set the target when he again went clear. After Brash's mount Hello Sanctos faulted, it was left to 54-year-old Skelton, last into the arena on Big Star, to carry home hopes. A clear round would have forced a jump-off with Guerdat for gold, but Big Star, who had not touched an obstacle in his five previous team and individual rounds, tipped a pole off the third-last, a fence shaped like the locally moored Cutty Sark.
For Skelton it was an agonising replay of his near-miss in Athens eight years ago. Then he led going into the final round but eight faults on Arko relegated him from first to 12th.
Though disappointed yesterday, the Warwickshire rider was philosophical. "It wasn't meant to be," Skelton said. "Big Star hadn't touched a jump all week and chose the worst time to hit one. The team competition took nothing out of him; he could have gone round again. He's still a great horse and it was just one of those things. And I'd have settled for team gold at the start."
Guerdat, who helped Switzerland win a team bronze in Beijing, rode the powerful bay 11-year-old Nino des Buissonnets with all the nerve and accuracy to be expected of the world No 8. To the 30-year-old's delight, his greatest triumph came on the 31st birthday of his sporting hero, his countryman Roger Federer.
With the Swiss rider posting the contest's only double clear for gold, the two on a one-fault total jumped off for the other podium places. Schröder, on the appropriately named London, added individual to team silver after O'Connor, riding Blue Loyd, posted a faster time but lowered the last fence. O'Connor, clinching Ireland's first medal of the games here, won gold in Athens but was later disqualified after his horse failed a dope test.
The third member of Britain's gold-winning team to jump yesterday, Ben Maher, finished equal 11th on Tripple X, with a fence down in each round. Ann Moore and Psalm remain the last British partnership to take an individual showjumping medal – silver in Munich 40 years ago – but the home side's dressage riders Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin have the opportunity in the individual freestyle at Greenwich today to make this the best-ever Olympics for British equestrians.