The battle of the nations was on in today’s first phase of the team challenge this morning.
There were high hopes of Britain, who were fielding three out of five of their Olympic team, but to add an element of chance to the test, competitors were not allowed to wear watches and had simply to judge the optimum time in their heads.
William Fox-Pitt and Andrew Nicholson have fought each other in every section of this competition, with Andrew desperate to get revenge for his defeat by the tall Englishman at Badminton last month. William may have proved his might in the dressage yesterday, but it was the New Zealander took the points in the cross country, coming “miraculously close” to the optimum time of 7mins 33 seconds.
“He’s got an excellent clock in his head”, said team captain Andrew Hoy.
Nicholson won the first section, with American Cindy Rawson missing out on points because of a stop at the first water as she “played safe” taking the long route.
But it was during the second draw that the havoc really started. David O’Connor started well with a fast clear, but then Heidi Antikatzides for Europe had one technical run-out at the first water complex, and a further stop at two angled corners, The Land rover Totem Poles. This fence brought the Brits down as well, Zara Phillips incurring penalties for parting company with Springleaze Macaroo. Even the veteran Australian Matt Ryan couldn’t get round clear, with one run-out at the first water complex.
The bad news for Britain continued with Pippa Funnell, who picked up penalties for a refusal at the same fence as caused her trouble with Ensign yesterday, so she finished last in her draw.
“Cool Cutty” worked her magic, however, and pulled an immaculate round out of the hat to clinch the fourth draw for the GB team, with the young Italian Vittoria Panizzon not far behind.
Australasia had retained their lead after the cross country, and were as confident as ever about their chances of overall success, in spite of a round so quick by Andrew Hoy that he finished third in his section. “Who’d have thought that Andrew Hoy could blow it for Australasia at the last,” boomed the commentary, but Andrew had his usual air of confidence: “we’re still in a pretty good position,” he said.
William Fox-Pitt, captain of the British team was fairly realistic about Britain’s position. “Our cross country was a little disappointing, but we were hoping to use up some bad luck before Athens, so the team manager is pretty happy!”
There was no question that Britain were on top in this afternoon’s show jumping phase, with both William Fox-Pitt and Zara Phillips finishing at the top of their respective draws. And when Pippa Funnell soundly beat New Zealander Tim Price, England moved up beside Australasia.
But in the final round, Sarah Cutteridge had the phenomenal task of throwing down the gauntlet to the mighty Matt Ryan. With one fence down and just 0.6 seconds outside the time, it was a competitive score, but Matt was clearly unfazed, and hunted around the track as if it were a steeplechase, finishing fast and clear and winning the competition for the Southern Hemisphere team.
Britain finished just two points behind, with the Rest of Europe in third. America was fourth, but David O’Connor gave an impressive display of his skills on a borrowed horse, as did William Coleman.