Zara Phillips will be the centre of attention when she makes her Olympic debut at Greenwich as a member of the British eventing team which is aiming to be the first to win gold since 1972. Miss Phillips’s father, Capt Mark Phillips was a member of that quartet, in Munich, and her mother, The Princess Royal, competed in the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
Miss Phillips, who will ride leading racehorse owner Trevor Hemmings’ High Kingdom, joins world number one William Fox-Pitt (on Lionheart), 51-year-old Mary King (Imperial Cavalier), for whom it will be a record sixth consecutive Games, dual bronze medalist in 2008 Kristina Cook (Miners Frolic) and Olympic debutant Piggy (Georgina) French, the 2009 European silver medalist.
Miss French is the only rider named with two horses: 2011 Badminton runner-up Jakata or DHI Topper W, winner of Blenheim and the Olympic test event at Greenwich last year.
The selection of team stalwarts William Fox-Pitt and Mary King will have come as no surprise. They hold four Olympic medals between them, but both have yet to win the elusive gold, and are openly hungry for the big win. Fox-Pitt’s selection was all but a formality, having qualified nine different horses for the Games this year.
Zara Phillips has described the news as “awesome”. She endured the huge disappointment of missing both Athens and Beijing due to her now-retired ride, Toytown, being injured on both occasions.
Speculation has been rife that High Kingdom, on which she achieved a lower placing at Burghley last year, would propel her back into the big time and, having come third with a double clear in the mud at Bramham Horse Trials over the weekend, the 2006 World Champion is on her way to making royal history.
“This is a team with true star quality,” says Country Life’s Managing Editor, Kate Green, who has reported on eventing at the last four Olympic Games. “William is probably the best horseman in the world at the moment and there will be no justice if he doesn’t win a gold medal.
“Mary and Tina are always at their best on the big occasion and have vast experience of team pressure; Piggy is the next big British name in the sport and Zara is a true talent with an extraordinary ability to keep her head under pressure. She’s going to come under the most awful media scrutiny – which might take the heat off her team mates – but she’ll cope.”
The first reserve for the team of five (the best three scores count) will not be named until next month, but Nicola Wilson, pathfinder on the brilliant jumping Opposition Buzz at the last three championships, can consider herself unlucky not to be selected and is a likely contender.
Britain is likely to be viewed as joint favourite for team gold with Germany, whose brilliant Michael Jung is the reigning world and European champion, but the Australian, New Zealand, American and French teams are all equally competitive and the compact, urban setting of Greenwich Park is likely be prove a cauldron of pressure in which even the best can make a mistake. A gripping contest is assured.