Equestrian: Unlucky Irish fail to secure qualification for Olympics
It was heartache for the Irish eventing team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky yesterday when, despite a thrilling recovery in Saturday's cross-country phase, they lost out on Olympics qualification to Belgium when finishing seventh of the nine completing nations.
Wicklow-born Mark Kyle was first to go and returned with just a single mistake with Step in Time when falling prey to the final element of the Walnut Hall Corner at fence seven, an obstacle that proved highly influential throughout the afternoon.
Irish chances were then further undermined when, after already picking up 20 penalties at the first water complex, Patricia Ryan's 14- year-old gelding Fernhill Clover Mist suffered a severe tendon injury on the approach to the log at fence 21.
The horse bolted in pain and Ryan did well to get him back under control without causing an accident.
The elimination of this partnership put the remaining two riders under even greater pressure but they truly rose to the occasion.
Sam Watson (24) lifted Irish hopes when adding only 5.2 time penalties in a superb round with the home-bred Horseware Bushman but last man to go Capt Geoff Curran was stopped on course following a nasty fall for Italian rider Juan Carlos Garcia whose horse, Iman du Golfe, had to be treated on course.
Curran and The Jump Jet had to wait an agonising 26 minutes before being re-started but the army man held his nerve and cruised in with just additional 2.4 time penalties to lift the team up to sixth place.
With Great Britain already qualified, there were five further Olympic places up for grabs so all that was required was that no ground be lost in the show jumping ring yesterday.
With a five-fence advantage over the Belgians it seemed qualification was all but assured and when Kyle returned just a single-time penalty in an otherwise flawless tour of the 13 fence show jumping track it was looking very good indeed.
Saturday's heroics however were not rewarded when Curran picked up 21 faults and Watson collected 16.
Ireland's individual competitor Camilla Speirs was eliminated for a fall on the cross-country course.
Great Britain took team gold in convincing fashion, and in an epic battle the surprising Canadians took silver ahead of New Zealand in bronze.
Individual title gold went to Germany's Michael Jung, who led from the outset with the Irish-bred La Biosthetique Sam, while Britain's William Fox-Pitt (Cool Mountain) took silver and New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson (Nereo) took bronze.