With one rider left to jump in a thrilling finale to the team competition at the European Showjumping Championships in Madrid, it seemed Great Britain was going to have to settle for that terrible fourth position.
But overnight leaders the Netherlands had suffered a tortuous day, plummeting down to third with a catalogue of faults from their first two riders. And their final rider Jeroen Dubbeldam’s eight faults sealed their fate, allowing Team GB to steam into the bronze medal position – their first championship podium since the 2007 Europeans in Mannheim.
“We’ve experienced a lot of emotions this afternoon,” said performance manager Rob Hoekstra.
Germany and France, who had stood second and third going into the final leg, held their nerve under immense pressure and each country posted three clear rounds on the final day to shuffle up the leader board and land the gold and silver respectively.
“What a really exciting three days it’s been,” said German anchorman Ludger Beerbaum (Gotha FRH). “It’s been great sport right to the very end.”
And spirits in the British camp were stratospheric in Madrid on Friday evening as the team of Nick Skelton, John Whitaker, Guy Williams and Ben Maher celebrated their championship bronze.
Nick rode a masterclass yet again for his third clear on the 10-year-old Carlo. Guy, having been the discard score in the first two rounds, hit top form when it mattered, jumping clear on Titus with just a time-fault – the result of a steadier and more concentrated round today.
Ben was unlucky for four faults with the relatively inexperienced Tripple X III while John had an unexpected eight with Peppermill, putting it down to “a lack of sparkle” after three strenuous days in the heat.
Revealing how close it was, the margin between third-placed Great Britain and fourth-placed Netherlands was just 0.96 penalties.
“The result we had today proved how good our new horses – and new riders – are and boosted our spirit for 2012,” said Ben Maher. “It means a lot because we’ve been struggling a lot through lack of medals recently.”
John Whitaker, who was on the bronze medal-winning team in Mannheim four years ago, added: “It doesn’t get better than this, even after all these years. But it’s been up and down all day.”
Team performance manager Rob Hoekstra was delighted that his team, two of whom stepped in to replace the injured Amai (Michael Whitaker) and Talan (Robert Smith) at the 11th hour, proved their calibre on the European stage.
“Nick was unbelievable and Guy pulled it out of the bag today,” he said. “We’ll have a bit of a celebration with the whole team tonight.”
It was a torrid day for the Irish, who finished in ninth and lost their chance of Olympic qualification – the three tickets went to the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.
In the individual standings, Nick Skelton moved into second place behind Germany’s Carsten-Otto Nagel and Corradina. Ben Maher and John Whitaker are also in the vital top 25 but we have to wait until Sunday to find out how this story will unfold. But what a day for British Showjumping!
1, Germany (M Kutscher, C-O Nagel, J-F Meyer & L Beerbaum) 10.41
2, France (M Robert, P Leprevost, K Staut & O Guillon) 15.95
3, Great Britain (N Skelton, G Williams, B Maher & J Whitaker) 22.46
Individual top 10 standings after three rounds
1, Corradina (C-O Nagel), GER; 2, Carlo (N Skelton), GB; 3, Eurocommerce New Orleans (G Schroder), NED; 4, Winningmood (L Diniz), POR; 5, Ninja La Silla (R-G Bengtsson); 6, Mylord Carthago*HN (P Leprevost), FRA; 7, Cellagon Lambrasco (J-F Meyer), GER; 8, Kellemoi De Pepita (M Robert), FRA; 10, Gotha FRH (L Beerbaum), GER.
Don’t miss next week’s issue of Horse & Hound (out 22 September) for full results, comment, analysis and pictures.