Olympics equestrian: Germany's regal display denies GB gold

 

There was both deafening applause and inevitable disappointment at the London Olympics' most picturesque venue as Great Britain's quintet of eventers took team silver behind a brilliant Germany.

On a raggedy, grey day in south-east London's famous old Royal Park one error and three time penalties from Zara Phillips in the jumping arena saw Britain's final hopes of team gold slip away before Tina Cook and Mary King both missed out on individual medals after failing to clear the same two fences.

Britain's record in this event is a good one - team bronze in Beijing four years ago, silver in Athens and Sydney, Seoul and Los Angeles. But the form of Germany's world and European champion Michael Jung and his superstar mount Sam snuffed out GB team hopes before another faultless display in the afternoon gave him individual gold to match.

Jung wins individual eventing gold

That Jung and his compatriots triumphed over a set of fences entitled Nelson's Column, Abbey Road, Stonehenge, Cutty Sark and Downing Street would have provoked disgruntlement from many British audiences.

In front of the National Maritime Museum, and with the towers of Canary Wharf and the City laid out to the north, the 17,000 damp spectators here ignored both old scores and wet weather to create one of the best atmospheres of the London Games so far.

Phillips, cheered on during her Olympic debut by family members including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cornwall, admitted afterwards with great regret that she could not reward that support with Britain's first gold of these Olympics.

"We should have been able to do more but Germany were too good for us," said the Queen's grand-daughter.

"It is disappointing but at the end of the day we have a team silver medal, and we did not go down. The team have been awesome this week, with some massive performances, and it has been a real honour to ride with everyone."

This is an immensely popular British team, as much for their characters and back stories as their achievements over the past three days.

Mary King made her Olympic debut two decades ago. At 51 years old, and with a broken neck behind her, she was desperate to add to the silver and bronze she had won over her previous five Olympics.

Analysis

"Mary King was fantastic. Let's put into context her story. She's 51, at her sixth Olympics, but this is a woman who broke her neck in 2001 and is here now riding at the Olympics.

"Tina Cook's horse, Miners Frolic, had to have three blood transfusions only a year ago. And Tina's father died in February this year. It's been an emotional time for her, but she has a brilliant ability to focus.

"The Germans were the hot favourites to retain gold - they are very good at dressage. If the cross-country course was as big as a Badminton or Burghley, Britain would have been favourites as they are a better cross-country nation. Britain will be really proud of themselves with silver."

Riding Imperial Cavalier, she produced an inspired round in the morning's team competition but could not repeat that in the afternoon's individual event.

"There was a chance of overtaking the Germans, but they put in a great performance and deserve it. They've done better than we have," she said afterwards.

"I was thrilled to bits to jump a clear round for the team in the first round. It is actually my first clear round at an Olympic Games, and I have done five of them already.

"I tried to blank everything out and pretend I was in a training session at Addington, where we had our training camp. I said to myself, 'Come on, Mary, it's up to you!' and it worked.

"But I am disappointed with my fences down in the individual competition. There is a big bronze lion in the centre of the arena, and because of that he (Imperial Cavalier) got scared and was a bit whizzy, but then settled and jumped beautifully."

Tina Cook, who nursed her mount Miners Frolic back to health a year ago from a critical condition and had to cope with the death of her father - racing training Josh Gifford - earlier this year, brought the loudest roar of the day when she went clear with a nerveless round to secure the team silver.

"The team had done so well - it was so close," the 41-year-old said.

"We could have got silver or nothing and that would have been awful. Gold would have been brilliant; silver is fantastic.

"What can I say (about Miners Frolic)? The vets that kept him alive, the team at home - we got him here. It's been stressful but, when it comes to this and the crowd, it's unbelievable."

Princess Royal awards GB medals

Mistakes at the first and third fences a few hours later cost Cook the chance of adding to the individual bronze she won in Beijing four years ago.

"I will get over it but I am beating myself up at the moment," she admitted.

"I was flat to the first fence. You want to be there going for gold so I am a bit disappointed."

More heartbroken than any British rider was Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt, who went into the final ride of the individual competition knowing a clear round would give her Olympic gold ahead of favourite Jung.

For almost the entire circuit she kept her nerve, only to clip the final fence and turn to see it fall, almost in slow-motion, with her a good 10 metres further on.

In that instant the gold was gone, and Jung, whose team-mate Sandra Auffarth took bronze, could celebrate two gold medals won in less than three hours.

There was joy too for New Zealand's Mark Todd, winner of individual eventing gold in both 1984 and 1988.

When he won that first medal 28 years ago, almost 8,000 of the 11,000 athletes competing at these Olympics had not even been born. His team's bronze here was greeted with almost as much pleasure as the first in Los Angeles.