The first day of the equestrian jumping competition got underway at the Deodoro Olympic Equestrian Centre, and with it saw all four Team GB combinations take to the arena. The quartet, who between them have amassed over twenty Olympic Games appearances, produced some fantastic jumping to get their campaigns off to a good start.
First in for Great Britain, making a record seventh Olympic Games appearance for Team GB was Nick Skelton with Beverley Widdowson’s London 2012 gold medal-winning ride, Big Star. Producing some great jumping all the way round the impressive 1.60m course, the combination posted a quick time but were unlucky to have the last fence down, which saw them finish on four penalties.
“I think if you’re going to have a jump down then today is the day to do it,” said Nick, “I’m pleased with him. If he jumps two clears in the team competition, which he can do, we’ll be very pleased.”
Nick’s teammate from London 2012, Ben Maher was next into the arena with Jane Forbes Clark’s Tic Tac. After some lovely riding from Ben, the combination were unfortunate to have a pole down at fence nine to incur four penalties.
Ben commented afterwards; “I thought my horse jumped well, he had plenty of height and used his body well. They said he hesitated on the TV, but I think I overcorrected him and it just took a bit of his jump away, but I got him home down the last line which has been causing some quite dramatic scenes today.”
Making his fifth Olympic Games appearance, Michael Whitaker with Cassionato, owned by Beverley Widdowson took the atmospheric stadium in their stride and recorded a lovely round, but after sailing over fence ten the horse touched the top of the pole on the way down to incur four penalties.
Michael said; “He jumped unbelievably. The one fence he couldn’t touch he touched – if you watch it back, he gives it plenty of room but just touches it at the end. Everything else went exactly as it should have done.
“I wasn’t expecting it [today’s course] to be as tough as it was to be honest, I thought it would be a nice 1.50m, but it’s full-blown like a grand prix course actually, so it’s tough.”
The second of the Whitaker brothers, John, was the last British rider into the arena on day one. Aboard Team Harmony Management Co Ltd.’s Ornellaia, the duo shone from the start producing some exceptional jumping in the midday heat to record Great Britain’s first clear of the day.
Commenting afterwards he said; “I was very happy with the round, from start to finish it was good. The second to last fence, the double, has been causing problems and I was a bit worried because she hasn’t got that much experience at this level, but everything went to plan – she felt fresh, she was listening, she was jumping, nice to get the first day behind us. It gives us confidence for the rest of the week.”
The results from today’s qualifying round are carried forward into the Individual competition and also decide the starting order of nations in the Team competition. The team event runs over two days (Tuesday and Wednesday), with the team medals decided after the second day, after which the top thirty-five combinations go forward to contest Friday’s Individual final.