Royal Zara Phillips makes Olympic equestrian debut

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Royal Zara Phillips makes Olympic equestrian debut

Zara Phillips is making her Olympic debut in equestrian eventing, and the gold-medal question is whether her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, will head out to Greenwich Park on Sunday to watch her compete in the dressage portion of the competition.

By (AP)

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Published: Sun 29 Jul 2012, 2:23 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:17 PM

Zara Phillips is making her Olympic debut in equestrian eventing, and the gold-medal question is whether her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, will head out to Greenwich Park on Sunday to watch her compete in the dressage portion of the competition.

On Saturday the queen and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh visited British team members in the athletes village in Olympic Park, chatted up other athletes in the dining hall, rode to the top of the 377-foot (115-meter) Orbit tower beside the stadium, and made a brief appearance in the Aquatics Centre.

It was a busy day given the 86-year-old monarch had officially opened the games the night before and stunned the crowd by participating in one of the evening’s most memorable moments: a film clip alongside Daniel Craig portraying Bond.

In the clip, Bond strides into Buckingham Palace to escort his VIP guest to the Olympic ceremony. Many had expected a famous actress to play the role of the queen, so there was an audible gasp when the queen herself swiveled around in her desk chair and declared: “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”

Aside from her grandmother, Phillips may count on other royals in the stands to cheer her on as she puts her horse High Kingdom through the paces of the standard test designed to demonstrate a horse’s obedience. First cousins Princes William and Harry and William’s wife Kate are expected to attend at least some portion of the competition.

And Phillips’ mother, Princess Anne, is not only president of the British Olympic committee but a member of the International Olympic Committee and a former equestrian eventing Olympian herself.

Anne competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics but fell off her horse. Phillips father, Capt. Mark Phillips, fared better in his Olympic endeavors, winning team gold at Munich in 1972 and silver in Seoul 16 years later. He’s now a top coach of the U.S. equestrian team and is in London with the Americans.

In a recent BBC interview, Anne acknowledged the pressure British athletes were under competing on home turf.

“I’d hate to be doing it now — that’s all I can tell you!” she said.

But her 31-year-old daughter downplayed the pressure, telling reporters earlier in the week she would have no trouble competing with other royals in the stands.

“They’re my family. It’s not weird,” she quipped. But she shied from the question of whether she had received any advice from her grandmother the queen, herself an equestrian enthusiast.

“Do you think I would tell you that?” she said.

Phillips had qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games but had to pull out after her horse Toytown got injured. British equestrian officials have stressed that Phillips is on the team because she’s an excellent athlete, not because she’s royal.

Phillips is 14th in line for the British throne but she and her older brother, Peter, have very low profiles in the royal family. They hold no royal titles — unique among the queen’s eight grandchildren — after their mother turned down the monarch’s offer of honors.

Nevertheless both are very much part of the royal family. The queen and Prince Phillip were honored guests at her wedding last year to international rugby star Mike Tindall, who has been photographed playfully wrestling William and Harry until they begged for mercy.

In the first day of the dressage competition Saturday, Australia took the early lead with Germany and the United States close behind.

In the individual competition, Germany’s Ingrid Klimke had a sparkling dressage test to score 39.3 penalty points, followed by teammate Dirk Schrade on King Artus with 39.8 and Mary King of Britain with 40.9 on Imperial Cavalier.

“I didn’t think about the score,” said Klimke. “That’s up to the judges. My job was to ride a supple test.”

Eventing standings are determined by lowest score. Each team includes up to five riders, with the combined scores of the three lowest riders to win team medals and the overall lowest riders to win individual honors.

The Greenwich Park stands hold seats for 23,000 for dressage and show jumping, while 50,000 spectators are expected on the cross-country course Monday. Medals in both team and individual competitions will be presented Tuesday after the show jumping phase.

The hometown cheering upset the British horses. King — a veteran of five Olympics and winner of two previous team medals — put her fingers to her lips as she emerged from the tunnel at the end of the ring. The crowd responded with silence.

“It’s absolutely fantastic here,” King said after her ride as tears streaked down her face. “My horse has tremendous enthusiasm and the crowd helped me. I can’t thank them enough.”

Several teams, including favorites Britain and New Zealand, did not have a complete rotation of three riders Saturday, so team standings are still preliminary.

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