Great Britain’s showjumpers dug deep in Aachen to deliver a character-filled display as they stayed on course for an FEI European Championships medal and an all-important place at next year’s Rio Olympics.
It proved to be an incident-packed penultimate day of team competition action, but Britain ended it in fourth place behind France — led by Penelope Leprevost (pictured above) — in first place, Holland in second and Germany in third.
Going into Friday’s final team-jumping round, five of the surviving 10 nations — Britain, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark and Ireland — will be chasing three Rio places available for countries that have not yet qualified.
Britain were indebted to clear rounds from Joe Clee and Utamaro d’Ecaussines (pictured below) — their second in successive days — and Michael Whitaker with Cassionato, after former world number one Ben Maher had four faults on Diva II and 19-year-old Jessica Mendoza saw three fences go down aboard Spirit T.
Mendoza’s tally proved to be the discarded score, while Clee is currenty third in the individual competition that concludes on Sunday. France’s Leprevost leads, just ahead of German star Ludger Beerbaum.
“My horse has been jumping great – even a bit too good,” Clee said. “He settled down after about fence four.
“It is a case of each day as it comes. With success here comes the Olympic qualification, so just one job at a time. I will start to enjoy it after Sunday has been and gone.”
And 55-year-old Whitaker added: “I got a lot of confidence from my horse. He has never been in this ring, and he’s never been under this kind of pressure. I didn’t know how he would react, but he actually rose to the occasion.
“I said when I came out, I’ve never felt pressure like it. There is extra pressure to qualify for the Olympics. If I had gone in and not had a good round, that would have been it. Now, we’re still fighting for tomorrow, even for a medal.
“You couldn’t get it (the course) wrong, you had to ride every fence and think about all the lines and even the last fence — you saw the problems the last fence caused. You had to get it all right, you could not make a mistake.
“Joe was brilliant and Ben was brilliant. What the mare did was out of his hands. She just took off, and Ben did unbelievably to stay on.”
Maher was powerless as Diva II went airborne too early going into the last fence, meaning that they ploughed through it, but Maher somehow stayed on and avoided elimination.
“I don’t really know how it happened,” he said. “She should have picked up two strides, but she picked up on one. I guess it was just quick reaction and instinct from me. I could not afford to fall off — that would have been pretty damaging for the team.
“She jumped probably as good as any other horse today, but that’s the way it goes.”
And Great Britain team boss Di Lampard added: “This just shows how focused the team are. To come back from the shock at the start with Ben and Diva, when they had looked home and dry, shows just how tight the team are. Team spirit really couldn’t be better.
“We came here to qualify for Rio. We are two thirds of the way through, and in a strong position to deliver.”
Current team standings are: France 5.700, Holland 7.820, Germany 8.400, Great Britain 10.990, Ukraine 13.030, Switzerland 14.230, Spain 16.580, Denmark 17.270, Ireland 17.960, Sweden 19.300.
Watch the action in Aachen: