John Whitaker delivers a solid start for British showjumping in Rio

By Charles Taylor on |

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John Whitaker takes the H&M Ivy Stakes at Olympia
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John Whitaker led the way as Great Britain’s showjumpers made a solid, rather than spectacular, start to their Rio Olympics campaign.

Whitaker, at 61 the oldest Great Britain team member in Rio, guided the hugely talented mare Ornellaia to a clear round in sweltering conditions at the Deodoro equestrian facility.

His team-mates — Nick Skelton (Big Star), Ben Maher (Tic Tac) and Michael Whitaker (Cassionato) — each collected four faults, but all of them looked impressive.

The opening one round event is a prelude to three further days of jumping, incorporating team and individual events, later this week.

“It was a very good round. I was very happy with it from start to finish,” John Whitaker said.

“Everything went to plan, and it is nice to get the first day done with a bit of confidence for the rest of the week.

“She is not a flamboyant horse when she jumps, but she just does the job. She is a very easy, straightforward horse. You know what to expect every day.”

Maher, meanwhile, added: “I wanted to be jumping clear in every round, but if we are going to have one down, today’s the day to have it.

“We may be coming from behind a little bit as a team, but we did that in London, and maybe we do that again this week.

“I think all the horses will be better for having a round’s jumping, and hopefully, we can get some clear rounds in on Tuesday.”

Skelton blamed himself for a final fence knockdown after stallion Big Star produced a typically classy performance.

“It was me — I messed up. It was my fault, and hopefully, I won’t do that again,” Skelton said.

“He jumped out of the final double so well, and I saw four strides to the last and I knew it was a steady five, so I held him for the five, and sometimes that’s what happens.

“When you hold fast, they come back too quickly, and he came back so quickly there I was on six strides and too deep for the fence.

“You don’t have a worry with him. Whatever they (course designers) build, he is capable of doing it easily.

“If he jumps two clears in the team competition, which he can, hopefully, we will be qualifying (for the individual final).”

And Michael Whitaker added: “It (a brick out of the wall) was just unlucky. Everything else went exactly how it should have done.

“It was a tough course. I thought it might have been a nice little runaround, but it was like a grand prix course.”

Brazil and Germany are the early pace-setters from a total of 26 clear rounds on day one, which included immaculate displays by reigning Olympic champion Steve Guerdat and 2008 Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze, but star riders like Jur Vrierling, Penelope Leprevost and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson all encountered difficulties.

Image: John Whitaker by The Rambling Man, CC BY-SA 3.0

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