Olympic news thrills Brits

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Between yelps of elation were Michael Whitaker's gasps of shock.

And then more elation.

Whitaker awoke yesterday morning expressly to see who won the bid for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games. Like most of the world, he figured the games would go to Paris, France, and his homeland's bid -- the city of London -- would be runner-up.

Then came the stunning news from the IOC. Instead of going to the home of brie cheese and red wine, the sporting world showcase would be hosted by the land of fish and chips.

"It was a big surprise, actually. I didn't think we'd get it. I thought France would get it," said Whitaker, a four-time Olympic show jumper in Calgary competing at the Spruce Meadows North American tournament. "I was shocked, couldn't believe it."

Sentiments echoed by fellow Brit Nick Skelton, who's competed at five Olympics.

"It'll be good for our country to get some new infrastructure, roads, railways, things like that," said Skelton, who's claimed three International victories at the Spruce Meadows Masters during his illustrious career.

"Also, it's good for show jumping, our sport. Whether I'll be around at that point, I don't know."

However, if there's something that could provide an impetus to keep competing, it's the chance to go for Olympic glory on home soil. Throw in the fact London hasn't hosted an Olympic Games since 1948, and it becomes an even bigger piece of history to aspire being a part of.

"Well, I'll be 55 then and probably over the hill but it really depends on what horse you have," he said. "I think the older you are, the better the horse you need. When you're younger, you ride with more, I don't know if it's bravery or enthusiasm or what but more than when you're older," he said.

"I don't think Arko III (his 11-year-old Oldenburg stallion) will still be jumping when he's 18 but it would be an incentive to keep going."

Besides, Skelton wouldn't mind getting another shot at Olympic glory after what happened at the 2004 Games in Athens.

Heading into the last round of the individual competition, he had the lead and would have claimed gold by jumping clear. Instead, he collected too many faults to advance.

Though it's much too far in the future to predict whether Skelton will compete at the 2012 Olympics in his homeland, it is a good bet to say he's a strong contender for every class at this week's tournament. Especially after he claimed a pair of victories last weekend during the Canada One event.

"They're in good form," he said. "But it's another week and a different ring. Hopefully, though, they hold their form."

As for Whitaker, the news for this week isn't quite as good.

His best horse, Laconda 25 -- the 10-year-old Westphalian bay mare he won the Canadian championship with at this year's National -- suffered a slight injury on the weekend and is doubtful for this week's event.

"She might be all right for the weekend but my gut feeling is she won't," said Whitaker, who was part of the silver-medal team event at the Los Angeles games of 1984.


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