The defending Olympic show jumping champions will be last to go in the team competition in Hong Kong after three of the four America riders jumped clear in the preliminary jumping round.

Britain, who made an excellent start with two clears and two four-fault rounds, will run 10th of the 16 teams.

Under this new system, in which the first round has been used to determine the draw in the nations cup, which starts on Sunday, scores do not go forward into the team effort. However, they do count as part of the qualifying procedure for the individual contest.

Nick Skelton made a great start, accumulating just one time fault on Russel, who looked in fine form, despite this being his first competition for about seven weeks.

“If he didn’t compete for a year, it wouldn’t bother him. If he’s well behaved, there’s nothing he can’t jump,” said Nick. “He’s a Jekyll and Hyde character.”

Ben Maher also produced an excellent clear on Rolette, picking up a single time fault.

“That’s one out of the way,” he said. “She was jumping a little high in the warm-up, and I was a bit worried that she was almost jumping too well. She’s an unbelievable horse, and I wouldn’t swap her.”

Tim Stockdale and John Whitaker both had excellent rounds as well, only hitting one fence apiece. John had the influential narrow upright gate which faced into the big screen and one time fault, while Fresh Direct Corlato rolled the front pole off the final oxer.

Leopoldo Palacios’s track proved straightforward, providing a gentle start for horses who would not have done that much work in recent weeks.

Defending individual champion Rodrigo Pessoa described it as “the softest first day I’ve seen in four Olympics”.

Thirteen riders jumped completely clear, including Hong Kong’s Patrick Lam on Urban, and a further 14 had one time fault. They included Pessoa and the reigning World Champions Jos Lansink and Cumano.

The Germans, under pressure to emulate their eventing and dressage compatriots, made a surprisingly slow start, and were fifth from bottom with 24 faults between them.

But Ludger Beerbaum said: “I wouldn’t say that it was a tactic exactly, but we were not very worried about this first round. I’ve never jumped a championship round just to decide team order before.

“The final 35 competitors won’t be decided from this evening; it’s all going to get much bigger, wider and faster, and we will be going ahead of quite a few other teams, I think.”

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