LONDON (AFP) –
Nick Skelton, who led Great Britain to team jumping gold on Monday, was one of only six riders to go clear in the first round of Wednesday’s Olympic individual show jumping final.
The 54-year-old put up another faultless performance on Big Star to go joint top of the standings at the midway point in the Olympics equestrian competition.
“I have just got to keep going and I mustn’t mess it up.
“Big Star is fresh and well. I just have to keep cool,” said Skelton, who is competing at his sixth Games despite being advised by doctors to give up riding in 2000 after he broke the C1 vertebrae in his neck in two places.
The 2012 hosts, who have already picked up two golds and a silver at Greenwich Park, are trying to capture the individual jumping title for the first time in their history.
Skelton’s foot-perfect display was matched by fellow Britain team winner Scott Brash, Ireland’s Cian O’Connor, Marcus Ehning of Germany, French rider Olivier Guillon and Steve Guerdat from Switzerland.
O’Connor won the title in Athens in 2004 only to be later disqualified after his horse tested positive for a prohibited substance.
He gained an eleventh-hour ticket to the Olympics, replacing Denis Lynch who had initially been selected but was ruled out when his horse failed a hypersensitivity test.
The top 20 riders from the first leg go through to the final round later Wednesday.
Figuring in that list was Ian Millar, the 65-year-old Canadian who is appearing at a record tenth Olympics.
The previous benchmark of nine Games was held by Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl.
Notable names who failed to make the cut were Canada’s defending champion Eric Lamaze, who picked up 12 faults on Derly Chin de Muze, and France’s European champion Kevin Staut, who picked up 18 faults in an error-strewn display on Silvana.
Another to fall by the wayside was Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah al-Saud, King Abdullah’s grandson, who was part of the Saudi team to win bronze behind Britain on Monday.
He knocked two fences down and picked up one time penalty for a total of nine faults.
Saudi Arabia will now be pinning their hopes on their last man standing, Kamal Bahamdan riding Noblesse des Tess.
“This has been a dream of ours for over two years,” said Bahamdan.
“We have worked so hard and focused only on London.
“Every jump, every competition, every minute we have spent on our horses’ backs we have been thinking of the Olympic Games. It is all that has mattered. It will all be worth it and I have been trying to enjoy it one jump at a time.”
One show jumping heavyweight who failed to even make it to the first fence was Rolf-Goran Bengtsson.
The Swedish world number one missed out when he was forced to withdraw his horse Cassall as he was deemed unfit to compete.
“I am very disappointed,” said the Beijing 2008 silver medallist.
“I have been working towards this since Hong Kong. But the horse has to be my first priority. Therefore it was a hard decision in one way, but it had to be made.”
The individual jumping winner is determined by the combined scores of the two rounds. In the event of a tie there will be a jump off against the clock to determine the destination of the gold medal.