Equestrian: British team in mix for European medals

Great Britain's Michael Whitaker riding Viking in the Olympia Grand Prix last year.
Great Britain's Michael Whitaker riding Viking in the Olympia Grand Prix last year.
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Great Britain’s showjumpers will target European title glory this week in the quest for another spectacular summer after striking gold at London 2012.

The five-strong British contingent, headed by Olympic team gold medallists Ben Maher and Scott Brash, face intense competition that will decide team and individual European champions.

Michael Whitaker, Will Funnell and Robert Smith have been selected to join the two Olympic heroes, although Smith and Voila look likely to be Britain’s reserve combination.

Maher will be aboard exciting new ride Cella, with Brash on his Olympic horse Hello Sanctos, Whitaker riding Viking and Funnell partnering Billy Congo.

And even though the Olympic champions are without arguably their top combination of Nick Skelton and the rested Big Star, Brash is upbeat about prospects at Herning’s MCH Arena.

“Even without Nick, I think we have a really strong team. I am looking forward to it,” said the Scotsman. “My horse is in really good form – I think he’s in the best form of his life. He has been unbelievable.”

A total of 102 riders from 24 nations have been entered for the event, with 21 of those countries contesting team honours. A powerful German team arrive as defending champions, while Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson will go for his second successive individual crown. Britain, though, has a strong record at European level, claiming 10 titles – four team and six individual – during the championship’s history.

But they will need to recapture the blistering form displayed at Greenwich Park 12 months ago to make their presence felt alongside fellow championship heavyweights like Germany, Holland, France and Switzerland.

Ireland could also be in the mix, with team manager Robert Splaine selecting a powerful line-up of Hickstead-based Shane Breen, Cameron Hanley, Billy Twomey, Shane Sweetnam and Conor Swail. The championship began with a one-round speed class yesterday, followed by the first round of team jumping today, with the top 10 teams reaching tomorrow’s medal-deciding phase.

All scores racked up during the team competition count towards individual honours, with the leading 25 riders contesting next Saturday’s individual final following a rest day on Friday.

An excited Brash added: “It’s big from day one, and it gets bigger and harder every day. It takes a lot out of the horses. You are really pushing them to their absolute limit.

“You don’t get away with anything. There is no hiding place.”