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Zara finally makes Britain’s Olympic team

Zara Phillips and High Kingdom

Zara Phillips and High Kingdom at Bramham at the weekend. © Mike Bain

Former world and European champion eventer Zara Phillips will finally get to follow in the footsteps of her parents, Anne, the Princess Royal, and Captain Mark Phillips, and take her place at an Olympic Games.

» Update: Nicola Wilson replaces Piggy French

Phillips, 31, has been selected as part of a five-strong team formally nominated on Monday by the British Equestrian Federation. The nominations must now be reviewed and ratified by the British Olympic Association (BOA) before the athletes are selected for Team GB.

“It’s awesome to be given this opportunity,” Phillips said. “I’m really excited and can’t wait to kick on and get him there – hopefully we will make it this time after you know what happened last …” she said, referring to 2008, when her horse, Toytown, was ruled out because of lameness.

She will ride High Kingdom, on whom she was third at Bramham at the weekend. He is owned by one of Phillips’s long-time supporters, Trevor Hemmings, who has owned many of her rides. “I couldn’t do it without him,” Phillips said.

“High Kingdom is a pretty cool, very relaxed kind of guy, I was really happy with him at Bramham as he’d obviously grown up and is improving all the time. He’s pretty pony like, a nippy little jumper and easy to manoeuvre so hopefully it will suit him well in Greenwich.”

Her mother, Anne, the Princess Royal, competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and her father, Captain Mark Phillips, won team gold for Britain at Munich in 1972, and team silver at Seoul in 1988.

The nominated athletes are:

  • Kristina Cook - (41) from Worthing, West Sussex riding Miners Frolic, owned by Mrs Sarah Pelham, Mr Nicholas & Mrs Valda Embiricos
  • William Fox-Pitt (43) from Sturminster Newton, Dorset riding Lionheart, owned by Mr Jeremy & Mrs Judith Skinner
  • Georgina  [Piggy] French (31) from Lubenham, Leicestershire riding Jakata owned by Mr Wally French & Mr Michael Underwood or DHI Topper W, owned by Mr Wally French & Mr Michael Underwood
  • Mary King (51) from Sidmouth, Devon riding Imperial Cavalier, owned by Mrs Janette Chinn and Mr Edwin & Mrs Sue Davies
  • Zara Phillips  (31) from Stroud, Gloucestershire riding High Kingdom, owned by Gleadhill House Stud Ltd

Between the five selected riders the eventing team contains a wealth of experience; this will be Mary King’s sixth Olympic Games; William Fox-Pitt’s fourth and Kristina Cook’s second. Although Zara Phillips and Piggy French will make their Olympic debuts in London 2012, they are also no strangers to championship call ups for their country.

A formal announcement of the eventing team is expected later this week. Reserve horses and riders will be named in due course.

Cook, Fox-Pitt and King were all members of the British eventing squad that won team bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where Cook also scooped the individual bronze on Miner’s Frolic. The same trio were then part of the team that won gold at the 2010 World Championships, where Fox-Pitt took an individual silver medal.

Phillips was crowned individual World Champion in 2006 but missed out on her Olympic dream in 2008 when her horse Toytown suffered an injury before competition. She is now back at the top of the sport with High Kingdom, a horse that she has brought up the ranks from novice level.

Mary King and Imperial Cavalier

Mary King and Imperial Cavalier. © Al Crook

Georgina “Piggy” French won individual silver at the 2009 European Championships and was also part of the 2011 European Championship team that won bronze alongside team mates Fox-Pitt and King. French also won the Olympic Test event in Greenwich in 2011.

Equestrian Team Leader Will Connell said it had been a challenging spring for the riders, with several events cancelled.

“Great credit is due to all the riders who have had to reflect this in their plans. It has also been a challenging time for selectors. The team we have now nominated to the BOA is crammed full of athletes that have proven medal winning ability at European, World and Olympic level. I offer my congratulations to them, their support teams and their horse’s owners and look forward to working with them during the final push to the London Olympics.”

Eventing Performance Manager Yogi Breisner said he was looking forward to working with the team and putting together final plans for Greenwich.

Cook was thrilled to be selected on Miner’s Frolic after the horse had fought back from nearly dying of colitis 12 months ago.

“After the horse’s illness last year this is a dream come true. With his past form Miner’s Frolic has proved he can do it. To come back to this level shows he’s a real fighter – that’s what pulled him through. He’s gone really well this season so I’m very excited to get the opportunity to take him to London.

“I’ve had him since he was four years old, he’s kind and talented and we have a great partnership. Greenwich will be challenging but he’s a well bred horse, fast cross country but adjustable and polite which is important for those hills!” she said.

William Fox-Pitt, who won the two main classes at Bramham at the weekend, said he was honoured and privileged to be selected for the team. “It’s particularly exciting as its London and I can’t wait for the Games to get started and experience the London Olympics. It’s very exciting to be part of such a strong team and I’m particularly delighted for my long-time owners Judy and Jeremy Skinner.

“Lionheart is a phenomenal horse and an incredible athlete with a great temperament and he’ll be able to cope with Greenwich perfectly. I’m really looking forward to riding there; he’s only a ten year old but a very generous and talented horse. In my opinion he’s made for Greenwich.”

Piggy French has the luxury of having two horses to choose from in Jakata and DHI Topper W.  “Obviously I am confident that ‘Topper’ will cope with the going there because of our experience at the test event but they are both amazing horses with different strengths. We will make a decision nearer the time based on who is feeling on the best form nearer the Games.”

“I have to say a massive thank you to my owners for their support; I wouldn’t have got to this stage without them. I am overly excited and very relieved. It is what my team and I have been working towards over the last few years so it’s excellent to be getting this far; we just have to hope and pray that they stay in one piece to get there,” French said.

It will be Mary King’s sixth Olympic games, and she is hoping that London will help her to complete her set of all three colours of medals.

“I am so pleased that ‘Archie’ will get the chance to compete at an Olympic Games, he so deserves this opportunity and I am sure he will rise to the occasion. He is a big, powerful horse which means he should be able to cope well with the undulations and be strong enough to handle galloping up and down those hills.”


 

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