Fox-Pitt: King should light up London Games

READY FOR LONDON 2012: Mary King

READY FOR LONDON 2012: Mary King

First published in Sport

WILLIAM Fox-Pitt has no doubt who should be lighting the Olympic flame in London later this month.

“Personally, I think it should be Mary King,” said eventing’s world number one, who is set to spearhead the British bid for medals at Greenwich Park.

While the Sturminster Newton-based star prepares for his fourth Olympics, 51-year-old team-mate King will go two better than that.

Not only will she equal javelin thrower Tessa Sanderson’s Olympic appearance record for a British athlete when she competes in the Games for a sixth time, King is also the oldest home female competitor in London.

When Britain won team silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and then bronze four years later, Fox-Pitt and King were integral parts of those successes.

Between them they have collected 27 major championship medals and won more than 15 four-star competitions worldwide, a staggering success-rate most other Olympic competitors can only envy.

And Fox-Pitt feels that to bestow the greatest symbolic act of London 2012 on King would be a fitting tribute.

He said: “She is an amazing Olympic athlete.

“She is in my team, and I am biased, but this will be her sixth Olympic Games, which is incredible.”

For her part, King is taking everything in her stride, having been selected among a strong British quintet alongside Fox-Pitt, Tina Cook, Zara Phillips and Nicola Wilson.

During her 20-year stint as an Olympian, Britain has continued to feature at the business end of eventing’s team and individual competitions.

The colour gold, though, has eluded them since 1972 in Munich when Welshman Richard Meade was individual Olympic champion, while a British team of Meade, Mary Gordon-Watson, Bridget Parker and Mark Phillips also triumphed.

King and company have a tough challenge on their hands, given the presence of reigning European champions Germany, Australia, France and a New Zealand quintet led by brilliant horsemen Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson.

Like King, Todd and Nicholson are both the other side of 50, yet experience is likely to be critical around the unfamiliar – and potentially punishing – terrain of Greenwich Park’s cross-country track two weeks tomorrow.

King said: “I’ve been very fortunate to have ridden at Olympics around the world.

“And now to have a Games in my own country I just feel so lucky and honoured to be given a chance to ride in them.

“There is one medal I need to complete the set, and wouldn’t it be amazing to do that in London?

“We will see.

“It would be amazing if it happens. We are in with a chance.

“There would be, I would say, four or five nations with a chance of winning the team gold, and we are one of that bunch.

“Hopefully, each of us riders can put in our best performances, but we will have to wait and see what happens on the day. Riding for a team is quite different from riding as an individual, which is what we do for the majority of the time.

“But at the end of the day, whenever you are competing, you are out there trying to do your best.

“I hope it will be the best Olympics yet. Time will tell.

“I am riding a fantastic horse in Imperial Cavalier, and I’ve got as good a chance as I have ever had at an Olympic Games, so fingers crossed it goes my way.”

The British team has now completed its competitive preparations, with all five riders giving their Olympic horses runs at the Barbury International in Wiltshire a fortnight ago.

British equestrian team leader Will Connell said: “It has been a challenging spring, with a number of events cancelled, and great credit is due to all the riders who have had to reflect this in their plans.

“It has also been a challenging time for selectors.

“The team that has been chosen is crammed full of athletes that have proven medal-winning ability at European, world and Olympic level.”

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