Great Britain’s Olympic showjumping team title defence ended in frustration on Tuesday, August 16.
The British quartet of Nick Skelton, Ben Maher—who both helped Britain win gold at London 2012—Michael Whitaker and John Whitaker failed to reach Wednesday’s second round after finishing 12th of 15 teams.
John Whitaker’s score of 23 faults aboard Ornellaia was the discount, but four faults each for Skelton (Big Star) and Maher (Tic Tac), plus five for Michael Whitaker on Cassionato meant that Britain could not challenge.
The top eight places were filled by the United States, Holland, Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, Sweden and Switzerland.
Skelton, Maher and Michael Whitaker remained in the individual competition, although it was understood that Whitaker had decided to withdraw Cassionato, leaving just Skelton and Maher to contest a place in the top 35 who will move forward to Friday’s penultimate round.
The emotions proved in stark contrast to London, when the British were crowned Olympic champions for the first time since 1956.
“We are all deflated, to put it mildly,” Michael Whitaker said. “These things happen, I am afraid, and they always have a habit of happening on the wrong day.”
Both Big Star and Cassionato received four penalties at the water jump, and Whitaker added: “It is the first time either horse have been in the water, which is very annoying. I don’t know what to say, really. They are both normally absolutely brilliant water jumpers. It (the water obstacle) was on a bad distance, but we knew that.”
John Whitaker said: “I had a confident start, and then turned the corner with a good distance, but then she (Ornellaia) pulled out last minute. It was totally uncharacteristic. Once she gets going, she is usually flying, but no excuses.
“We came here with high hopes and expectations, looking forward to it. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.”
British management lodged an appeal over Skelton’s four faults, but even if successful, it would have made no difference, as a top eight spot would still have eluded them.
“It was pretty rough,” Skelton said. “That horse has never been in a water jump in his life, and I don’t think he was in that one. He put his feet over it. His heel touched the tape, which is allowed. It’s whatever judge is on there at the time, but we appealed it.
“I had no idea. He (the fence judge) didn’t call it until I jumped two fences after. Should we have these water jumps? It is down to someone’s opinion, and sometimes they can’t get it right in a split-second.
“Whether it should be judged on a camera, or whether they should have a buzzer on it, I don’t know. The horse jumped amazingly. He could not have jumped any better.”
Attention now turns to the team final, where host nation Brazil, whose presence has attracted bumper crowds in searing heat at the Deodoro Equestrian Centre, will be among the main gold medal contenders, but the USA and Germany probably start as marginal favourites.
Ben Maher and Tic Tac at the horse inspection in Rio, by Richard Juilliart, courtesy of the FEI