LONDON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Britain captured its first team
show jumping gold in 60 years on Monday after a tie-breaking
jump-off with the Netherlands while Saudi Arabia took bronze
with some royal help from the grandson of Saudi King Abdullah.
Britain last won gold in the event back in 1952 while it was
a first team medal for the Saudis, who left stalwarts such as
Switzerland and defending Olympic champions the United States in
Britain and Netherlands went into the jump-off tied at eight
faults apiece after the three tough days - Saturday's individual
qualifier and the two-day team final - jumping progressively
bigger and more difficult courses.
That was an impressive result given that only six riders out
of 45 made it through the huge nautical-themed course with
neither jumping nor time faults. The four-metre wide water jump
was a particular challenge.
The jump-off between Britain and the Netherlands required
all team members to jump a shortened course, one country
alternating with the other.
Three clear rounds in the jump-off assured victory for the
home team. Scott Brash, who has stayed cool under pressure in
his first Olympics, had one rail down for four faults.
Dutch rider Jur Vrieling had a clean round but the
Netherlands dropped to silver with two rails down for Maikel van
der Vleuten and one for Marc Houtzager.
Gerco Schroder did not need to jump because Britain had
already claimed gold after Peter Charles went clear on Vindicat.
Van der Vleuten said the Dutch team were more than happy
with a hard-fought silver despite missing out on gold.
Britain's team veteran and hot individual gold prospect Nick
Skelton was flawless throughout the contest, from Friday's first
individual qualifier through the jump-off.
Skelton had failed to win a medal at five previous Olympics.
He missed the Sydney Games after breaking his neck at a horse
show and initially planned to retire but changed his mind after
finding a good horse for the Athens Games.
On Monday, he said the gold medal around his neck was worth
"I've waited a long time. Been to a lot of Games. Made a lot
of mistakes. And I suppose really you couldn't do it in a better
place for us," he said.
Skelton heaped praise on horse Big Star, which his owners
bought with London in mind.
"He has everything you need in a horse - he's got all the
scope, he's super careful, he's brave, he has an intelligent
head on him, he's good to ride."
Britain stands a good chance of another gold in Tuesday's
dressage team final.
The team, which has risen up the ranks in international
dressage over the past few years, leads with an average score of
79.407 percent, with Germany close behind at 78.845 percent.
Britain also has a chance of individual jumping glory on
Wednesday with Skelton and Ben Maher among the favourites.
The top 35 riders qualify but begin with a clean slate.
It may have been a long-awaited victory for Britain but the
biggest surprise on the podium was bronze medallists Saudi
Arabia, especially given that the riders individually are not
rank among the world's top show jumpers.
Germany, France and Belgium, who took the top three spots in
the 2010 world championships, did not even make the cut for the
second round which fetaures the leading eight teams.
Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly is the Saudis' highest-ranked show
jumper at 59 while the others are ranked 150 or below.
The team said this was because there was really only one
show that counts for them - the London Olympics.
"To be in the top ranking, it's also something. But you know
it's not so easy for us coming from Saudi, trying to compete in
these big shows and collect points, you need a string of
horses," said Ramzy Al Duhami, who is ranked 264th.
"So we had one focus in mind - that was the Olympic Games
-and we worked hard to really get the horses ready at the time
of the Olympics."
Saudi rider Khaled Al Eid won individual bronze for jumping
in the Sydney Games in what the team described as an inspiration
for many in the country to aim for the upper ranks of the sport.
The Saudi riders train in Europe, backed by an organisation
called Saudi Equestrian that has bought a number of high-level
horses with the aim of doing well at the London Games.
Prince Abdullah al Saud, the second royal equestrian to
compete at the London Olympics, only had one rail down in three
days of competition and said it was an honour to compete at this
level for his country.
He said his team had been based in Belgium and worked
closely together for the past four months.
Switzerland was fourth on Monday with a two-round total of
16 faults. Canada, riding a man short after the disqualification
of rider Tiffany Foster for oversensitivity in one of her
horse's legs, was fifth with 26 faults.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)