LONDON – It seems the 2012 Olympic organizers want to punish those ticket-holders actually showing up to watch sports. The background rock music at most venues is so loud it could make anyone stone deaf in minutes.
There was no such noise at the 25,000-seat Greenwich Park equestrian arena Tuesday. And the stone-cold silence as riders navigated barriers in the jumping finale of three-day eventing was a delightful relief.
It was so quiet you could hear hooks rattle on flagpoles, the flags flap in the breeze, a golf cart roll behind the stands, and horses snort as they tried to clear 12 barriers and cover the course fast enough to avoid time penalties.
“It makes the noise of poles falling even louder,”
It was a wry, self-deprecating comment from British rider Phillips, who had heard the sound all too well because she caused it.
It was (at the risk of my being sent to the Tower) the sound of Britain’s gold-medal hopes hitting the ground with a royal thud.
Mathematically at least, Phillips’ mistakes were the difference between the gold-medal Germans and the silver-medal British in the team event.
(I hope to escape beheading because I didn’t begin this story, “The Queen’s grandkid and her horse were the goats.”)
Phillips, 31, is
’s granddaughter, Princess Anne’s daughter, and 14th in line to the throne. She neither merits a royal title by genealogy nor chooses to have one conferred on her. That unpretentiousness has endeared Phillips to the British public.
Tuesday, she earned the title of first British royal to win an Olympic medal. It became a Olympic and family affair: the medal presenter was the Princess Royal, a 1976 Olympian in eventing who kissed her daughter on both cheeks after hanging the medal around her neck. First cousins
and Prince William were on hand to cheer.
“It’s amazing, obviously, to get it from your mum, any medal,” Phillips said.
Phillips knew it could have been gold. That she had an error-free run in the individual jumping final two hours later, moving up from 14th to eight in the individual standings, was a bittersweet reminder of that.
“I should have done it the first time around,” she said.
Her regrets were apparent in an exchange with Australia’s Andrew Hoy.
“I spoke with Zara after the team competition, and I said, `Congratulations, it’s a great result,’’’ Hoy told the Times of London. “She said, `I find it hard to feel that at the moment when I had the faults that I did.’”
Phillips and her inexperienced horse, High Kingdom, knocked down a pole, or rail, on the second jump. No excuses.
“My mistake, not his,” she said. “I messed up and had to get on with it.”
Then Phillips, the 2006 individual world champion, was asked if she had been able to recover well, and the wry tone returned.
“I didn’t knock any others down,” she said.
The big mistake and a later brush with a rail that made the crowd gasp threw them off pace enough to be penalized for finishing the course three minutes slower than required.
The rail knockdown added four points to Britain’s score, the time penalty another three -- seven in all. The British finished 4.5 points behind Germany. Among the three (out of five) on her team whose scores wound up counting, only one other rider incurred a penalty, of one point.
“It is disappointing for the team score but generally I’m happy,” she said. “It was an emotional roller coaster.”
Phillips and High Kingdom had a strong cross-country phase Monday. They were among just nine of 70 riders to get through the hilly, tortuous, 3.5-mile course cleanly even though the horse lost its two front shoes along the way.
(Wasn’t that what King Richard III said in Shakespeare’s eponymous play? My kingdom for a horseshoe?)
Phillips fared better than her mother had in 1976. The Princess Royal, riding one of the Queen’s horses, suffered a concussion from a crash in the cross-country phase of the team competition and was 24th in the individual event.
Zara also had a better day than her father, 1972 gold medalist Mark Phillips, now coach of the U.S. team. The USA wound up seventh.
So there was the expected question about what she had said to mum and dad.
“Why are we always talking about my family?” Phillips said. “Everybody’s family is here.”
It was either that or talking about the possibility she had made a royal hash of things.