A stunning dressage test (36 penalties) from an Australian rider, Stuart Tinney on Jeepster, kept the ebullient home team in the lead at the end of the dressage phase of the Olympic three-day event.
But Great Britain has closed the gap to 2.6 penalties after excellent performances from European champion Pippa Funnell with Supreme Rock and Ian Stark with the New Zealand Thoroughbred Jaybee.
All four British team members scored a personal best in this phase, with Pippa gaining a mark of 32.
This included a 10 – the first ever in eventing – for her extended walk, and a record total of 208 from Irish judge Jean Mitchell.
Pippa said: “I have never been so nervous before a dressage test, but I was all right by the time I got into the arena. I’m cross with myself for fluffing the flying change – I didn’t give myself enough room as Rocky is so onward bound¨but, thanks to Chris [Bartle, team dressagetrainer], his medium trot has improved massively.”
The USA is now in third place, thanks to a superb test by Karen O’Connor on Prince Panache (32.6), the third best score of the competition.
France is fourth, the best mark (41) coming from Jean Teulere on the team veteran, Twist La Beige, a 16-year-old Anglo Arab who has been on the French team every year, bar the Atlanta Olympics when he was banned due to piroplasmosis risk, since winning the individual European title in 1993.
After Andrew Hoy’s performance around the dressage arena yesterday, which sent spectators wild, the 12,000-strong crowd has been asked to be quiet when horses enter the arena.
This, however, was no help to the reigning individual champion, New Zealander Blyth Tait, as Ready Teddy whipped round at the first halt. He threatened to blow throughout the test and pawed the ground during the rein-back.
“He was boiling,”explained Blyth. “Basically, we’ve been here for too long without doing a competition and he’s over the top. But we’re saving our best for the cross-country. It’s not going to be won on the dressage.”
However, the Kiwis, in fifth place, are only about 30 penalties off the lead¨similar to the Aussies’ position before winning gold in Atlanta.
“We’re at our best when we’re behind,” said the team’s fourth member, Vaughn Jefferis, who did a lovely test on the 17-year-old Bounce, who will be retired after the Olympics. “We’ve got a perfectly competitive score and with a bit of luck we’ll fly round tomorrow. The course should suit our horseswe’ve just got to move our asses.”
Temperatures rose to around 30C degrees today and, although a cool front is expected for the cross-country, endurance will undoubtedly be a factor on a long course.
Ian Stark, a dual silver medallist in 1988 and making his 13th and last British team appearance¨although he will continue to ride at Badminton and Burghley¨said he is planning to take all the straight routes, “depending on feedback”.
He said: “Stamina will be the key. There’s a lot of jumping and uphill stretches and the two waters are tough.”
Results after dressage:
1, Australia, 112.6;
2, Great Britain, 115.2;
3, USA, 125.4;
4, France, 140.2;
5, New Zealand, 143.6;
6, Germany, 150.4;
7, Belgium, 160.4;
8, Italy, 170.4;
9, Japan, 171.6;
10, Ireland, 175.8;
11, Spain, 199.6;
12, Brazil, 215.