London 2012

Brits make solid start

Home team off to a good start at Greenwich

Last Updated: 04/08/12 5:35pm

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Ben Maher made an excellent start on board Tripple X III

Ben Maher made an excellent start on board Tripple X III

Great Britain's showjumpers made a solid start to the quest for a first Olympic medal since 1984 at Greenwich Park.

While it did not all go according to plan, with former European champion Peter Charles crashing out of the individual competition on Vindicat, his team-mates Ben Maher, Scott Brash and Nick Skelton all enjoyed a trouble-free opening day.

The top 60 riders from a field of 75 in the one-round class progress to Sunday's second phase, when the race for team medals also begins.

While Charles remains an integral part of Britain's team medal quest, his individual hopes are over, but he was in good company as American Beezie Madden and Germany's Christian Ahlmann also made shock exits.

Madden, Olympic individual bronze medallist four years ago, was eliminated aboard Via Volo, while 2011 World Cup winner Ahlmann clocked up 15 faults on Codex One.

And Switzerland's former world number one Pius Schwizer only just made it, filling the final 60th qualifying place.

"I am hugely disappointed - I can't explain what happened," Ahlmann said.

Britain's last Olympic showjumping medal was secured by the team of John Whitaker, Michael Whitaker, Tim Grubb and Steven Smith in Los Angeles, and Maher is upbeat about their prospects on home territory.

"We are positive as a team, we think we have a chance," the Hertfordshire-based rider said.

"We want to go out strong from the beginning and make the others try to chase us."

Perfect

Maher delivered an immaculate round on Tripple X III, his Olympia World Cup champion last December, and he added: "He felt like there was plenty more left in him, and he will only improve on that.

"He wasn't fazed by the crowd, and it's good to get that first round done. We've been waiting a long time - it feels like time has stood still the last few weeks.

"The atmosphere is unbelievable. Normally, I don't hear anything when I am riding, but it is pretty easy to get distracted by it here. The main thing is the horse stays focused."

Charles and Vindicat got it all wrong at an early double, though, knocking down both elements and then collecting two time penalties.

"It was a disastrous start to the round," Charles said.

"He was a bit tense, he didn't want to take the bridle, so I ended up taking eight strides before fence three when I had planned to go on seven strides.

"I have got to use all my experience to work around it now."

Reflecting on the opening day, Great Britain team manager Rob Hoekstra said: "We started off really well.

"But I think as we went on the competition got louder and louder and more excited, and the last two horses (Sanctos and Vindicat) were definitely a bit affected by the environment when they came into the arena.

"That is why I think the mistakes happened quite early in the course, and it happened to some of the other nations as well, not only us.

"I am quite happy. We needed to get this round out of the way.

"The horses are fine and the riders have got their first feel of an Olympic venue which is different to anything else anywhere we've ever been. I am really positive for tomorrow."

Scotsman Brash showed few signs of nerves on his Olympic debut with Sanctos, and despite an early knockdown, they finished strongly.

"He was a little bit nervous when he first went in and saw all the colourful jumps, but he finished off good and confident, so I think he can only get better now," Brash said.

"I was just itching to get going. There is a bit of hanging about when you first come here to the venue, so it was good to get started."

And Skelton, backed by many showjumping watchers as a strong individual medal candidate, added of his nine-year-old stallion Big Star's display: "He jumped great.

"The atmosphere today had also been like it for the dressage and eventing competitions, so I knew what we were going to get.

"The course was nice, but from here on in it will get more difficult."

Team medals will be decided after round two of that competition on Monday, with the individual medal race reaching its conclusion next Wednesday.

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