The British Olympic Association has named the 12 riders that will represent Britain at the Rio Olympics.
Having recovered from the horrific accident he suffered at Le Lion d’Angers last October, three-time Olympic medallist William Fox-Pitt makes a welcome return on the eventing team with Chilli Morning. His team-mates will be Kitty King on Ceylor L A N, Izzy Taylor on Allercombe Ellie and Gemma Tattersall on Chico Bella P or Quicklook V.
The dressage team sees a combination of experience and fresh enthusiasm, with 2015 European team silver medallist Fiona Bigwood and Spencer Wilton making their Olympic Games debut alongside reigning World, European and Olympic Champion Charlotte Dujardin and Olympic team gold medallist Carl Hester. Bigwood will ride Atterupgaards Orthilia, Wilton Supernova, Hester Nip Tuck and Dujardin Valegro.
The exclusion of Scott Brash from the long list doesn’t mean the Rio team lacks experience. London 2012 gold medallists Nick Skelton and Ben Maher return to the team (with Big Star and Tic Tac respectively) and are joined by Los Angeles 1984 team-silver medallist John Whitaker, at his sixth Olympic Games, and his younger brother Michael, who also won silver in 1984 and is at his fifth Olympics. The Whitakers will ride Ornellaia and Cassionato respectively.
Great Britain’s showjumpers made it a case of mission accomplished at the FEI European Championships in Aachen by securing prized qualification for next year’s Rio Olympics.
Although the British team of Ben Maher (Diva II), Jessica Mendoza (Spirit T), Joe Clee (Utamaro d’Ecaussines) and Michael Whitaker (Cassionato) missed out on a bronze medal by just 0.760 penalties, a fourth-place finish still took them to Rio, where they will defend the Olympic title next summer.
Maher jumped clear, while Mendoza and Clee each had four faults, and Whitaker’s total of nine faults proved to be the discarded team score.
Switzerland and Spain booked the other two qualifying places, but controversy reigned after Ireland missed out on the Olympics in unexpected circumstances.
One of the main arena stewards ran in front of Cian O’Connor during his round, and the London 2012 individual bronze medallist had the next fence down. If O’Connor had jumped clear instead of collecting four faults, then Ireland would have overtaken Spain and qualified.
Irish team officials lodged an immediate protest, but it remains to be seen if anything can be done. Ireland finished a mere 0.380 penalties behind Spain.
Reigning world champions Holland added European gold to their collection after an imperious display by Jeroen Dubbeldam (pictured), Maikel van der Vleuten, Jur Vrieling and Gerco Schroder, with the German quartet of Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum and Daniel Duesser finishing second and Switzerland third.
Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya leads the individual competition heading into Sunday’s final, when the top 25 qualifiers will also include Clee and Maher, together with Irish trio of O’Connor, Bertram Allen and Denis Lynch.
Clee said: “My horse jumped amazingly. I am so happy with his performance, but I am just kicking myself a little bit. I could have been a bit sharper coming down that distance, and I could have helped him a bit more.
“We came here to do a job, and that was to qualify for the Olympics, but then when you come so close, it’s gutting when you don’t get a medal.
“The team performed fantastically. I am really happy for Jess. She pulled it back and she rode a really good round to finish, which is great for her, and it was great for the qualification for the Olympics. She helped us qualify for the Olympics.
“We all had that on our minds, and we had great team spirit and we all had the same purpose here. I think the team spirit carries us, and we really pulled together.”
Mendoza, who, at 19, is the youngest British showjumper selected for a senior championship since Debbie Johnsey went to the 1976 Montreal Olympics, added: “I think the first few days I wasn’t used to the ring, and today I knew I had to try and go good, so I gave it all I could.
“It’s completely different here in Aachen. It wasn’t really suiting my horse on the first few days, then after riding in it for a few days I’ve got used to it.”
And Whitaker said: ““We were less than one fault away from the bronze medal, so it’s really disappointing actually. The main thing was to qualify, and we did that, but a medal would have been a real bonus.
“I’m very happy (to help get the team to Rio). I want to stick with this team next year. All these guys have worked really hard, and they deserve a chance. The main thing was to get qualified, and we did.”
Final team standings: 1 Holland 8.820, 2 Germany 12.400, 3 Switzerland 18.230, 4 Great Britain 18.990, 5 France 21.700, 6 Spain 25.580, 7 Ireland 25.960, 8 Ukraine 32.030, 9 Sweden 44.300, 10 Denmark 47.270.
Image: Jeroen Dubbeldam led the Dutch team to win team gold at the European Championships in Aachen, by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI
They are among the greatest names in British equestrian history – and with a combined age of 147, William Fox-Pitt, Michael Whitaker and Pippa Funnell simply keep on winning.
A quick tour over the past two weeks from Badminton, via La Baule on the west coast of France to the stunning setting of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, and one would have found these British champions on winning form.
Do not be in the least bit surprised, therefore, if the riders in question are integral parts of the Great Britain equestrian team at next year’s Rio Olympic Games.
Their performances during the past week to 10 days underlined the old sporting adage of “form is temporary, class is permanent,” and could have left no-one in any doubt about an enduring quality that augers well for Brazil in 15 months’ time.
At 46, Fox-Pitt’s second Badminton title 11 years after his first one rightly won universal acclaim. It was the 14th four-star title of his stellar eventing career, but never could one have been so popular as he steered the 15-year stallion Chilli Morning to a memorable victory.
Form and fitness prevailing, Chilli would appear to be Fox-Pitt’s Olympics horse, but he is in the enviable position of having so many others to choose from – proven four-star winners like Parklane Hawk, Bay My Hero and Cool Mountain – plus arguably the rising star at Fox-Pitt’s Dorset yard, Freddie Mac.
Across all the olympic sports, Fox-Pitt would probably be the nearest thing to a British shoe-in selection that is currently out there, and it would no surprise if three-time Olympic medallist Funnell joined him on the flight.
Funnell, also 46, enjoyed a mesmeric run of success during the early 2000s, when she followed up her achievement as European individual champion by winning Badminton three times in four years and becoming the first, and still only, rider to complete the Rolex Grand Slam, a lucrative cash prize to awarded to anyone clinching consecutive Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky titles.
Fast forward to 2015, and Funnell’s performance at Chatsworth should not go unnoticed, winning the CIC three-star for a record third time on Sandman 7, while also landing one of the one-star sections aboard Billy Walk On.
German-bred Sandman is owned by Funnell and her mother Jenny Nolan, and they gave a third share to Funnell’s long-time trainer Ruth McMullen for her 80th birthday. “He is getting better and better and is a horse for the future,” Funnell said, while of Billy Walk On, she added that the horse has been “freakily quick to progress.”
A quick hop across the Channel, and showjumper Whitaker could be observed at his brilliant best, anchoring Great Britain to a thrilling victory at the La Baule Nations Cup.
Whitaker, 55, faced intense pressure, knowing he could not afford a fence down if Britain were to take top honours, while his first round aboard Cassionato had been far from straightforward, with the Yorkshireman requiring all his renowned horsemanship skills to conjure a clear round.
But he duly delivered the goods, showcasing exactly why he has won 15 major championship medals by once again leaving every fence up and ensuring that together with his team-mates Joe Clee, Spencer Roe and Guy Williams, Britain continued a hugely-impressive start to Di Lampard’s reign as chef d’equipe.
“I knew I had to go in and have less than four penalties, so the time really mattered,” Whitaker said. “The first round was a bit difficult, but the second round was great, he really went well and gave me a good ride.”
And Lampard added: “Everyone was exceptional, and for Michael to pull it out the bag in the way he did made it spectacular.”