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Kristina Cook Leads Britain To Double European Gold
Fontainebleau, France
Photo: Kit Houghton

Kristina Cook (GBR), long renowned as one of the world's best horsewomen, at last won the major international title that has eluded her thus far in her illustrious career when she headed an all-conquering British team at the HSBC FEI European Eventing Championship in Fontainebleau (FRA).

She has also set a new record, as the first mother to win an individual gold medal, and she now has the full set of individual European medals, having won silver in 1993 and bronze in 1997.

Britain easily won their 8th successive European team gold - their 21st since the European Championships started in 1953 - a task eased by the demise across country of the German team and also that of the French, whose silver medal evaporated when their cross-country hero Jean Teulère had to withdraw Espoir de la Mare before the final horse inspection.
Team Great Britain, 2009 European Eventing Champions. From left to right: Oliver Townend, Nicola Wilson, individual gold medallist Kristina Cook, and William Fox-Pitt.
Instead, Britain beat Italy, who were collecting their first silver medal, by a massive 93.2 penalties, and Belgium, who, in this extraordinary competition, were another 64.4 penalties behind them.

Piggy French (GBR), a last-minute substitute to the British squad after Mary King (GBR) had to pull out, excelled herself in her first senior championship, producing one of only two clear Jumping rounds, to win the silver.

Michael Jung (GER), also making his senior team debut, salvaged German pride with individual bronze.

Nicolas Touzaint (FRA) had warned that Fontainbleau's Jumping course is a major test, and so it proved. For a start, the arena is huge, and the sides were packed with excited crowds, but it is also unusual in that it is split level, with a sloping ramp dividing the arena in half laterally.

Riders were incurring cricket scores - such as Italian team member Stefano Brecciaroli who picked up 29 penalties on Oroton - and it wasn't until Ireland's Michael Ryan and Poland's Pawel Spisak produced 4-fault rounds that anyone began to believe that a reasonable round was possible, and at last the first clear came, from Swedish individual Malin Larsson on Piccadilly Z, who finished eventual 12th.

France's individual hopes lay with Didier Dhennin, a veteran of the last two Europeans with Ismene Du Temple, but he hit two rails to remain in 5th place.

Piggy French's clear put the pressure on William Fox-Pitt, who had been lying in individual bronze position on the French-bred Idalgo, a beautiful horse to watch but not the easiest to ride, and when he hit a fence, dropping to 4th, the pressure was off Michael Jung (GER), who had been lying in silver.

He then faulted, slipping behind French, and obligingly giving Cook a 2-fence lead. A masterful horsewoman of the highest calibre, she had Miners Frolic beautifully balanced and only hit one fence, but the time was clocking up dangerously and she was shocked to look up at the leaderboard and see she had incurred a nerve-racking 4 time penalties, giving her a winning margin of just 0.3.

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