King leads the way for Britain as stormy weather interrupts dressage
She may be a veteran of six Olympic Games, but Devon-based eventer Mary King admitted that even she had to fight back tears of pride after opening up her London 2012 campaign in distinguished style on Saturday.
King, 51, was in action in Greenwich Park completing her individual dressage test in a career-best score of 40.9, good enough for third place overnight, and, while she slipped to 12th yesterday after the other half of the field competed, she remains very much in medal contention.
King, who made her Games debut all the way back in Barcelona 20 years ago and has won team silver at Athens in 2004 and team bronze at Beijing four years ago, entered the arena on her horse Imperial Cavalier to a raucous reception. But, after putting a finger to her lips to silence the crowd before her test, King then basked in the home crowd's applause after a solid dressage effort that sets her up well for today's second discipline, the cross-country.
"This atmosphere was absolutely fantastic, I'm not usually tearful but coming in with the home crowd behind me was just so amazing," said King, whose exploits have helped Great Britain into third place in the team standings after the dressage.
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"I could tell just how much they wanted me to do well, but I had to put my finger to my lips just to show them that they needed to be quiet," added King, who is based in Salcombe Regis.
"If they had roared then Imperial Cavalier would have exploded and the test would have been really hard to ride. But that made it even better because I knew they were all behind me and they were also ever so well behaved.
"He's a horse that has great enthusiasm and energy at the best of times and I'm really pleased with how he did. He was tense, that's for sure, and made a couple of little errors, including one at the end, but I was really pleased with most of his work
"This is in the top three of his best tests – especially when you consider what the atmosphere was like, but I'm very much the sort of person who can feel the emotion coming and puts it to one side.
"Compared to the World Equestrian Games, that was his last big event and he could not quite control himself, this was much better, he settled down and did his best."
Dressage is traditionally the weakest event for Britain, who are yet to win an Olympic medal in the entire history of the event. But with the cross-country and then show jumping still to come, King remains confident that there is much more to come from herself and Imperial Cavalier.
"I'm looking forward to Monday," she added. "Timing is going to be the main problem with the course and any mistakes I make will come from that. But I've walked the course and will walk it every day, so I'm looking forward to getting out there."
The Team GB quintet are 7.9 penalties behind leaders and gold medal favourites Germany and 4.9 adrift of Australia, with Sweden and New Zealand tied for fourth spot.
Germany-based Japanese rider Yoshiaki Oiwa is the unexpected overnight individual leader with a score of 38.10. Italy's Stefano Brecciaroli is second and 56-year-old New Zealander Mark Todd, who is chasing his third Olympic title, lies one place behind.
King and Imperial Cavalier are the highest-placed British combination. Tina Cook and Miners Frolic are in 14th place, William Fox-Pitt (Lionheart) equal 17th, Zara Phillips (High Kingdom) equal 24th and Nicola Wilson (Opposition Buzz) equal 39th.
Cook was faced with torrential rain, thunder and a threat of lightning during her dressage test at Greenwich Park yesterday. "You do get this type of weather thrown at you," she said.
Sweden's Niklas Lindback – the next competitor after Cook – was delayed for ten minutes by ground jury president Anne-Mette Binder as conditions deteriorated. New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, the world number two, blasted the hold-up as an "absolute disgrace" and claimed it had affected his preparations.