Olympics: Saudis take surprise lead in show jumping; US in 7th

8/5/2012 9:30 AM
By By Margaret Freeman Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Saudi Arabia leads the standings after the first day of Olympic equestrian team show jumping at Greenwich Park over a tightly packed field.

The Saudi Arabians had just 1 penalty point Sunday and were followed closely by the Netherlands, Britain, Sweden and Switzerland, all with 4 penalty points and tied for second.

Standings can quickly change in the second round of competition Monday, meaning Canada in sixth with 5 points and the U.S., tied with Brazil in seventh with 8 points, are still in the running for medals.

The field was narrowed from 15 teams to seven.

"I cannot describe my feelings," said Saudi leadoff rider Prince Abdullah Al Saud who had a clear round on Davos.

The day started with controversy when Canadian horse Victor, ridden by Tiffany Foster, was disqualified by competition veterinarians for hypersensitivity in the left front leg. This left Canada without a drop score in the competition where the best three scores out of four riders count.

Canada coach Torchy Millar said Victor had a minor sore spot on his leg, possibly from knicking himself with a hoof in the stall, and that a protest will be lodged, but that Foster is still out of the competition.

"This is like getting a scratch on the finger and then saying you're not fit for competition," said Millar. "The ruling lacks any balance at all."

Canada's leadoff rider Eric Lamaze, who won individual gold in China in 2008 while his team took silver there, said his teammates are determined to be on the medal podium Monday where Foster can join them.

"That would be the biggest reward of all," said Lamaze. "She has the support of all her teammates."

The issue of hypersensitivity has followed international show jumping for years, since capsaicin - the main ingredient in chili peppers - can be used to make a horse's legs over-reactive to touch and thus jump higher. Several jumping horses were disqualified at the 2008 Olympics for testing positive to capsaicin.

However, jumpers in competition can easily get small leg cuts, and the tests for hypersensitivity distinguish between heat in a leg caused by a minor sore or by a foreign substance. Millar said Victor was not tested for the presence of a foreign substance.

"I'm sick about it," said Canadian rider Ian Millar. "The way the rule is written, it's not an equitable interpretation."

Ian Millar - no relation to coach Torchy Millar - rode a penalty-free anchor round to boost his team's chances. The 65-yer-old Millar is riding in his 10th games, a record for an athlete in any sport.

The strong showing by Saudi Arabia comes after a concerted effort to field a jumping team for the 2012 Olympics, according to a team spokesperson. A program was started in 2009 by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud to provide the best horsepower and trainers for his country's top riders, including his son Al Saud who spearheaded the team's strong showing Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Syrian rider Ahmad Saber Hamcho scored 28 penalty points on Wonderboy, which drops him from the competition for individual medals. A small group of protesters against the regime of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad have been present outside the entrance to Greenwich.


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