Saudi Arabia, inspired by a member of their royal family, put up a regal display to take a surprise lead at the midway stage of the Olympics team showjumping competition on Sunday.
After the first round’s action at Greenwich Park the Saudis jumped to the top of the standings after their team featuring Prince Abdullah al-Saud picked up just one time fault.
That left them clear going into Tuesday’s final round from a quartet of better fancied teams – Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland who were all on four points.
Canada, on five points, were sixth, ahead of Brazil and the United States, who took team jumping gold in Beijing four years ago and in Athens 2004, tied on eight points behind the Saudis.
With only the top eight teams qualifying for Monday’s finale that meant Germany, winners in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney four years later and tied for 10th on 12 points, Belgium, France, Australia, Ukraine and last placed Chile, were all knocked out.
Last week, Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, played a pivotal role in the host nation picking up three-day team eventing silver last week.
On Sunday, it was the turn of King Abdullah’s grandson to continue the royal tradition at the 2012 Games.
Born in London, Prince Abdullah matched his clear round in the first leg of the individual competition on Saturday with another faultless display.
The 27-year-old law graduate, who was first to go for the Saudis on Davos, was thrilled with his round.
“I cannot describe my feelings I am so happy. What with the weather, the London bus and the Tower Bridge (jumps), I felt like I was sight-seeing today,” said the prince, who also competed in Beijing.
Teammate Ramzy Al Duhami also went clear, with the Saudis’ single point due to a time penalty incurred by Kamal Bahamdan on Noblesse Des Tess.
“My mare was amazing. There was only one moment when I let her down and I relied 100 percent on her heart to bring us through,” he said.
Fellow Saudi rider Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly knocked one fence down but his four points were discounted as only the best three scores count.
Foot-perfect performances from Britain’s Nick Skelton, one of the favourites to pick up individual jumping gold, and Ben Maher gave the hosts a share of second place.
The 54-year-old Skelton, who missed the Sydney Games 12 years ago after being advised by doctors to retire after breaking the C1 vertebrae in two places in his neck, paid tribute to his horse, Big Star.
“He felt like he looked. He jumped fantastic, he felt fantastic and he is fantastic. There are no negatives with this horse, he is the most perfect animal.”
Canada meanwhile took a knock after one of their horses, Victor ridden by Tiffany Foster, was disqualified for hypersensitivity, leaving them with a team of three.
The veterinary commission of the sport’s ruling body stressed there was no accusation of malpractice, but the horse was deemed unfit to compete.
The United States figure down the standings as a result of only one of their number, Rich Fellers, posting a clear round.
The dubious honour of the worst round of the day, and by a long margin at that, went to Ukraine’s Aleksandr Onishchenko, who ratcheted up 23 points on Comte d’Arsouilles – five fences down and three penalty points.
The Ukraine oil billionaire blamed the British weather.
“It was very difficult and I had big trouble. I had to warm up in very bad rain and my horse was a little bit upset.”
Sunday’s scores also counted towards the individual competition, which climaxes on Wednesday.
In this event, Skelton and Prince Abdullah are among a dozen riders at the top of the standings after two clear rounds.