Majestic Greenwich Park welcomed 50,000 people and 74 rider/horse combinations for the second phase of the eventing triathlon competition – cross-country. Set amid the park's chestnut and walnut trees, one of the most popular events in the equestrian portion of the games did not fail to deliver. With thrills, spills and heart-stopping moments, riders put it all on the line in their quest for a gold medal.
Germany entered this phase as team leaders after the dressage event, with Japan's Yoshiaki Oiwa, first in the individual rankings. But a grueling course, which was slippery at times and extremely challenging at others, saw team and individual positions change hands frequently. The 28-fence, 3.6-mile course, was designed to be completed in an optimum time of 10 minutes 3 seconds, adding to the pressure of an inconsistent terrain.
Boyd Martin (USA) on Otis Barbotiere tackled it first and rode out quickly. Martin appeared to have no problems and jumped the course clearly, earning only 3.6 penalties for a 10:11.74 finish time. When Australia's Christopher Burton followed that with a stellar ride on HP Leilani for a penalty-free round of 9:46, folk began to wonder what all the hype was about.
But the course soon began to court casualties. Canada's Hawley Bennett-Awad required medical attention and left the course in an ambulance after falling at fence three. Teammates Rebecca Howard and Peter Barry were also eliminated for falls. Jessica Phoenix/Exponential and Michelle Mueller/Amistad were able to complete the course, but overall, the Canadian's finished in 12th place.
If dressage is the dancing in eventing, then cross-country is the blood, sweat and sheer guts of the competition. All told, 15 rider and horse combinations were eliminated for falls and several horses refused jumps or had run outs.
Burton's clear round was the gleaming moment team Australia's performance. Fellow teammates Sam Griffiths/Happy Times and Clayton Fredericks/Bendigo were eliminated for falls and Lucinda Fredericks and Andrew Hoy both accrued time penalties. The Aussie team, 2nd yesterday fell to 6th place.
Meanwhile, Boyd Martin's teammate Karen O'Connor/Mr Medicott accrued 5.60 penalties and Phillip Dutton/Mystery Whisper earned the best score for the US with just 2.80 penalties. The USA moved up from 7th to 5th place ahead of tomorrow's jumping round.
The day though, truly belonged to Germany, Great Britain and Sweden, who finished the cross-country in that order. Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz, gave the the Brit's a flying start as they flew around the course. The duo's skillful tackling of the Tower of London fences in the main stadium thrilled the crowds, as the combination finished the course in an astonishing penalty-free 9:51.29.
With Mary Thomson-King/Imperial Cavalier accruing just 1.2 penalty faults, William Fox-Pitt/Lionheart and Tina Cook/Miners Frolic put in solid rides. But Zara Phillips and High Kingdom took it home when they became the fourth horse and rider to go clear inside the time.
It was no easy feat for Phillips as the inexperienced High Kingdom, full of running, forced Phillips to constantly establish control. But the daughter of the Princess Royal handled Kingdom masterfully, and Phillips finished on her dressage score of 46.10. Team Great Britain secured 2nd place ahead of tomorrow's jumping phase.
Germany's Ingrid Klimke/Abraxxas; Dirk Schrade/King Artus; Peter Thomsen/Barny 47 and Michael Jung/Sam's excellent performances, kept Germany firmly in the number one spot. Sweden's Ludwig Svennerstal; Linda Algotsson and Sara Algotsson also had stellar rounds moving team Sweden into third.
New Zealand's Olympic veteran Todd Martin and Campino were the last to tackle the course. Martin remains in individual 3rd, but team NZ remained just outside of the medal spots in fourth. Yesterday's individual leader after the dressage – Yoshiaki Oiwa of Japan, had a heartbreaking fall at the 20th fence and was eliminated. The triathlon concludes tomorrow with jumping.
Team eventing – ranking after cross-country
1. Germany: Peter Thomsen/BARNY; Dirk Schrade/KING ARTUS; Ingrid Klimke/BUTTS ABRAXXAS; Sandra Auffarth/OPGUN LOUVO; Michael Jung,/SAM, 124.70.
2. Britain: Nicola Wilson/OPPOSITION BUZZ; Mary King/IMPERIAL CAVALIER; Zara Phillips/HIGH KINGDOM; Kristina Cook/MINERS FROLIC; William Fox-Pitt/LIONHEART, 130.20.
3. Sweden: Linda Algotsson/LA FAIR; Ludvig Svennerstal/SHAMWARI; Sara Algotsson Ostholt/WEGA; Niklas Lindback/MISTER POOH; Malin Petersen/SOFARSOGOOD, 131.40.
4. New Zealand: Jonelle Richards/FLINTSTAR; Jonathan Paget/CLIFTON PROMISE; Caroline Powell/LENAMORE; Andrew Nicholson/NEREO; Mark Todd/CAMPINO, 133.40.
5. United States: Boyd Martin/OTIS BARBOTIERE; Karen O'Connor/MR MEDICOTT; Tiana Coudray/RINGWOOD MAGISTER; William Coleman/TWIZZEL; Phillip Dutton/MYSTERY WHISPER, 155.20.
Individual eventing – ranking after cross-country
1. Ingrid Klimke/BUTTS ABRAXXAS, GER; (4, 39.30; 1, 0.00), 39.30.
1. Sara Algotsson Ostholt/WEGA, SWE; (5, 39.30; 2, 0.00), 39.30.
3. Mark Todd/CAMPINO, NZL, (3, 39.10; 3, 0.40), 39.50.
4. Michael Jung/SAM, GER, (11, 40.60; 4, 0.00), 40.60.
5. Kristina Cook/MINERS FROLIC, GBR, (14, 42.00; 5, 0.00), 42.00.
6. Mary King/IMPERIAL CAVALIER, GBR, (12, 40.90; 6, 1.20), 42.10.
7. Ludvig Svennerstal/SHAMWARI, SWE, (16, 43.70; 7, 0.40), 44.10.
8. Sandra Auffarth/OPGUN LOUVO, GER, (8, 40.00; 8, 4.80), 44.80.
9. Andrew Nicholson/NEREO, NZL, (21, 45.00; 9, 0.00), 45.00.
10. Christopher Burton/HP LEILANI, AUS, (24, 46.10; 10, 0.00), 46.10.
10. Zara Phillips/HIGH KINGDOM, GBR, (25, 46.10; 11, 0.00), 46.10.