Zara adds to family silver with Olympic medal
By NICOLE WINFIELD,
Updated July 31, 2012
LONDON (AP) The queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips added to the family silver Tuesday, helping team Britain to a second-place finish behind Germany in Olympic equestrian eventing. Putting shine on the moment: Her mother, Princess Anne, presented the medal.
It was a very royal family affair at Greenwich Park, London's oldest royal park and the home of equestrian events for the 2012 Olympics. Princes William and Harry and William's wife, Kate, were in the stands to cheer on their cousin as she competed in the final show jumping portion of the three-stage eventing competition, coming out for a second day in a row to support "Team GB."
Phillips said the experience was "amazing" and "unreal" - if not a bit disappointing given that Britain went into the final hoping to win. But Phillips and teammate Nicola Wilson both knocked down fences, and the penalties added onto others accumulated by the team over the dressage and cross-country segments, dashing Britain's hopes for gold.
"We wanted gold but we made mistakes," Phillips said. Then holding her new piece of silver, she said: "When we got this around our necks, it was all worth it."
Amid the celebrations back at the Olympic Park, Phillips was reticent to reflect on the intense global interest in her exploits and the royal connection.
"It's only your focus that's intense about it, because at the end of the day, they're my family, so it's not anything different to me," Phillips said. "Everyone else's family has been able to support this week, so it's not really anything different than these guys. These guys don't have any issues with it."
But the royal family has been at the heart of the Olympics, with her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, also playing a starring role in the opening ceremony in a James Bond sketch with actor Daniel Craig.
"Obviously it's a big part of British culture, so you can't get away from it," Phillips said. "But the fact I'm competing in the Olympics is something totally different."
What, though, did the queen say by way of congratulations?
"I'm not going to tell you that," Phillips said.
Michael Jung on Sam led the German team to its second consecutive Olympic gold - and then picked up the individual gold to boot with a combined score of 40.6 after incurring no penalties beyond his initial dressage score. He is now current Olympic, world and European eventing champion. And if that weren't enough, Tuesday was his 30th birthday.
"It was amazing, awesome," he said.
Asked if he could have imagined his double-gold win, Jung said he only dreamed of riding in the Olympics.
"It was not my dream to win two golds," he said.
Germany went into the event atop the standings and maintained the lead throughout, ending with a final score of 133.7. Britain's final score was 138.2, while New Zealand had 144.4 for the bronze. The United States was seventh with 208.6.
In the individual competition, Sara Algotsson Ostholt of Sweden riding Wega won the silver with 43.3 after knocking down the final fence of the competition. Sandra Auffarth of Germany riding Opgun Luovo won the bronze with 44.8.
After racing through the treacherous cross-country course without any penalties the day before, Phillips' horse, High Kingdom, knocked down a rail on the second jump Tuesday, incurring four penalty points. He completed the rest of the course cleanly, albeit a bit over the 83-second limit. The crowd gasped when the rail came down but applauded wildly as she finished.
"It was my fault," Phillips said. "After that he jumped fantastically."
Phillips, a former world and European eventing champion who is 14th in line to the throne, said she had put High Kingdom in a tough takeoff spot as she approached the jump, leaving him little room to maneuver.
"I'm just disappointed for the team," she said.
Despite the penalties, Phillips qualified for the individual jumping final and produced a clean, quick round that earned her an eighth place individual finish for her Olympic equestrian debut. She pumped her fist in the air in celebration afterward.
Britain's William Fox-Pitt on Lionhart said the presence of royals in the stands didn't affect Phillips or the rest of the team.
"Each of us is in our own bubble out there," he said. "Her family is here to support her and our families are here to support us."
As they did on Monday, William, Kate and Harry watched the competition from the VIP section of the equestrian arena, joined by Camilla, Prince Charles' wife, and Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, the daughters of Prince Andrew.
Princess Anne was there as well - and then came down to the arena to hand out the medals. It might have been a poignant moment for her given that she competed in Olympic eventing in 1976, but her horse fell during cross-country.
Several of the British and New Zealand team members curtsied when Anne approached to drape the medal around their necks; the men shook hands or bowed slightly. Phillips got a kiss on each cheek from her mother.
Horse and rider then took a thunderous victory lap around the arena.
They weren't the only ones celebrating: Phillips' husband, England rugby player Mike Tindall was live tweeting the results:
"Woooooooooooooooooooooo," he tweeted after it became clear Britain had won the silver.
Britain won eventing silver in the 2004 Athens games and bronze in 2008. Germany won gold in the 2008 Olympics and was in first place in Athens but dropped from medal contention after a technicality.
The last time Britain won Olympic gold in eventing was in 1972, when Phillips' father, Capt. Mark Phillips, now the U.S. eventing coach, was on the team. He also won silver in Seoul 16 years later.
Phillips said she appreciated the effort her relatively inexperienced bay gelding gave her, given he lost two shoes during the arduous cross-country portion of the event on Monday.
The 31-year-old Phillips scored a penalty-free ride Monday, negotiating High Kingdom over 28 obstacles and a slippery course that claimed a dozen fallen riders. Her score helped bring Britain into second place in the team standings behind Germany heading into the final portion of the event.
Some of the first horses out on the show jumping course looked tired, with several pulling down multiple fences and incurring time penalties beyond the 83 seconds allowed. But Fox-Pitt - the first British rider out - had a clean round, drawing raucous, foot-stomping cheers from the flag-waving hometown crowd.
The show jumping portion of eventing is designed to test the horse's agility and ability to recover from the difficult run the day before. The lowest three scores for each team counted for the team total. The lowest 25 scores went to the individual jumping competition.
The team members for gold-winning Germany were: Jung, Auffarth, Ingrid Klimke on Butts Abraxxas, Dirk Schrade on King Artus and Peter Thomsen on Barny.
British team members included: Phillips, Wilson riding Opposition Buzz, Fox-Pitt on Lionheart, Mary King on Imperial Cavalier and Kristina Cook on Miner's Frolic.
New Zealand's bronze-winning team included: Jonelle Richards on Flintstar, Caroline Powell on Lenamore, Jonathan Paget on Clifton Promise, Andrew Nicholson on Nereo and Mark Todd on Campino. Todd's previous medal haul in individual eventing includes back-to-back golds in 1984 and 1988 plus bronze in 2000.
Asked if he'll be back for Rio in 2016, Todd said: "I'm not going to say yes and I'm not going to say no."
Margaret Freeman, Tom Curley and Rob Harris contributed to this report.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield.