Cross country day was a real day of thrills and spills at Greenwich, as riders battled to keep within the tight 10.3 time frame, and manage the twisty, undulating course that Sue Benson had created.
Ireland’s Michael Ryan was an early casualty, falling at the Saxon Village and being eliminated – Michael was one of many riders eliminated over a course that threw up lots of ‘asks’ for the horses.
British pathfinder Nicola Wilson made good time through the first half of the course, chasing the current best time from Aussie Christopher Burton, of 46.1, with just a few seconds to make up. She finished 12 seconds under the time on 51.70 on her dressage score, to rapturous applause. The noisy crowd kept her in good spirits, creating a lovely atmosphere. “He’s an amazing horse – he really gave time the wow factor,” said an emotional Nicola afterwards.
Although the course looked at first glance not to be too challenging, appearances were deceiving. The twists and turns were quickly exhausting for horses not quite fit enough, while many riders found it hard to make the time. Should they press on to make it inside the time, and risk trips or falls at combinations, or take it slowly as some riders did, to keep some energy in the tank to get over the fences and accelerate away safely?
There were some big asks on the course, with steep downward lines into skinnies or awkward fences. One of the scariest was the line down to the first water complex, the River Bank, from fence seven, The Moon, with its breathtaking views to Canary Wharf. The water complex didn’t look too challenging in itself, but the route into it required some careful riding. The line back up the undulating Park to the Royal Greenwich Borough fence was also a challenge, being incredibly steep and hilly.
Riders were not unanimous in their agreement of how challenging the course was – Germany’s fourth placed Michael Jung said it was “a difficult four star challenge, for sure,”, while third placed Mark Todd for New Zealand nonchalantly declared it a three star course, “as all Olympics are.”
Nicola Wilson’s team mates Mary King (40.90 penalties), Zara Phillips (46.10), William Fox Pitt (44.10) and Tina Cook (42) took advantage of Nicola’s pathfinding round, and all rode amazingly – the support was off the radar, with the crowds cheering and whooping for the Brits. Despite the fact many riders encountered slips and falls on the slippery grass, which didn’t have much coverage or thickness and had become wet yesterday, the British riders made it home safely.
Nicola, Tina and Zara all made it back inside the very tight allocated time, while Mary picked up less than two time-faults, and William picked up 9.2 penalties.
The end result on XC day saw the Brits climb to second place overall, with Tina and Mary taking fifth and sixth place individually – a really strong position.
An emotional Tina, on 42 penalties, couldn’t contain her tears as her family met her at the finish line. “I am lucky to have him [Miners Frolic] she said. “I knew I needed to go fast around the corners – I don’t usually go very fast, but once a year is OK,” she joked. “The Brits have had a lot of fun today.”
The leading ten nations are currently –
Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, USA, Australia, France, Ireland and Belgium.