Clear round from Queen's granddaughter Phillips cheers huge equestrian crowd
Monday, 30 July 2012
July 30 - It was picture perfect; after all the angst, all the technical headaches, all the local anger – the people of Greenwich have probably sacrificed as much as anyone else in the cause of London's Olympic adventure – historic Greenwich Park emerged as an out-and-out star of the Olympics today.
With its leafy glades, incomparable heritage buildings and ravishing views across the city, the Park looked quite simply magnificent, as the organisers always thought it would.
After Sunday's storms, the weather – crucially – behaved and a 50,000-plus crowd, including a high proportion of children, was treated to a feast of equestrian derring-do among the ancient trees and shaded walkways of one of the planet's great urban parks.
The army of volunteers and Organising Committee officials more than played their part, facilitating the audience's ramblings among the spectacular fences, with the aid of football referees' whistles and lengths of rope.
Not only was there a royal presence in the crowd, in the shape of Princes William and Harry and William's wife, Kate Middleton, there was also a royal clear round – recorded in storming fashion by Zara Phillips (pictured top), daughter of Olympic eventer and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Princess Anne and Olympic eventing gold medallist Captain Mark Phillips.
Phillips' achievement, on High Kingdom, set off a bout of foot-stomping in the stands more reminiscent of Leyton Orient or Millwall football grounds than genteel Greenwich.
If there was the teensiest cloud on the bright horizon of NBC television executives, who regularly shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to broadcast the Olympics to the lucrative – and highly heritage-conscious – United States audience, it was probably that after the most demanding phase of the equestrian three-day event, the US team lies a fairly distant fifth, seemingly with little chance of snaring a medal.
On an exceptionally demanding course with its sharp turns and steep gradients, made tougher still by all the recent rain which made it slippery underfoot, especially for the early starters, there were always going to be thrills and spills.
In the end, no fewer than 15 competitors were eliminated, and more horses may well be ruled unfit to compete in tomorrow's show jumping stage after several shed shoes in mid-course.
The most unfortunate faller was the Japanese rider Yoshiaki Oiwa, who had led the competition after the opening dressage phase.
Oiwa took a tumble from his mount Noonday de Conde at the 20th fence with its intimidating drop.
The team medals – dependent on the aggregate scores of the best three riders from the up to five-strong teams – now look to be fought over between four countries: Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and New Zealand.
German and Swedish riders, respectively in the shape of Ingrid Klimke, on Butts Abraxxas and Sara Algotsson Ostholt, on Wega, share the narrowest of overall leads in the individual competition.
Great Britain, though, has the most consistent set of scores, with all five riders in the top 22 in the field.
Tina Cook and Miners Frolic lead the way in fifth place after a scorching cross-country round.
"I don't necessarily like to go that fast," said the Sussex-based rider, who lost her father, four-times champion jump jockey Josh Gifford, only in February.
"But once a year I'll do it."
Mary King and Imperial Cavalier lie sixth with Phillips in 10th spot.
William Fox-Pitt, surprisingly, ended the day as the lowest-placed British rider on Lionheart in 22nd spot, after picking up 9.2 time penalties.
"My chap got a bit tired at the end," he said afterwards, before being mobbed by some of the most polite autograph hunters I have ever seen.
"He was still jumping well.
"I think that is why I was able to keep going.
"There are some 45-degree bends and you don't meet those very much in eventing, especially going at 570 metres a minute."
Arguably the ride of the day came from the last competitor of all, New Zealand's double Olympic gold medallist, Mark Todd.
Riding Campino, a "big, long-striding horse" who might have been expected to find the twisting circuit difficult to cope with, Todd nearly encountered disaster early in his round when the buckle on his reins came undone.
Quickly gathering them up, the veteran Kiwi completed his ride to such good effect that he amassed just 0.4 time penalties.
The only blemish came at the very last fence, which Campino rapped quite hard.
"I thought, 'Don't take a pull', I knew I was close to the time [limit]," he said.
"I just put my foot down and prayed he would pick up."
That tiny time penalty was the difference between first and third places overnight for this remarkable 56-year-old athlete who won his first gold medal at Los Angeles in 1984 and is actually six months older than Sebastian Coe, the London 2012 chairman.
But the margin is small enough to leave him with every chance of making Olympic history tomorrow in historic Greenwich.
And, given the strong prospect that her granddaughter may pick up a medal, who is to say that Her Majesty the Queen will not be there to see him try?
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July 2012: David Owen - Mark Todd, the durable Kiwi aiming to defy time by winning a third gold at Greenwich
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