In London, 2 favorite pastimes, 1 pumped crowd

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2012 - 8:29 AM

Equestrian met royal-watching and the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth gave Brits what they wanted by winning a silver medal.

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Fans cheer after Great Britain's Zara Phillips competed in the equestrian eventing individual show jumping phase on Tuesday. Phillips won a sliver medal.

Photo: David Goldman, Associated Press - Ap

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LONDON - Daphne Anazodo doesn't usually follow equestrian sports. Unlike many of the other spectators at Greenwich Park on Tuesday, she was not decked out in tweeds or Wellington boots, nor did she have an opinion on whether the German rider took the proper approach to the jump that looked like the clipper ship Cutty Sark.

She came from the borough of Harrow in northwest London to engage in a completely different sport, one not on the Olympic program. "We won the tickets, so we're taking it all in," she said, as her partner and two sons took photos with a statue of the Olympic mascot. "And I'm quite keen on the royals."

Most Britons are equally fond of royal watching, which made the equestrian venue such a lively spot over the past few days. Zara Phillips -- daughter of Princess Anne and granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth -- competed for her country in eventing, which combines dressage, a cross-country obstacle course and stadium jumping. Tuesday, she and her teammates won the silver medal in the team competition with plenty of her family in attendance.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- better known as Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton -- came to see Phillips and Team Great Britain in the stadium jumping portion of the event. So did the Princess Royal (Anne), the Duchess of Cornwall (Prince Charles' wife, Camilla) and Prince Harry. In a stadium filled with expensive horseflesh, where people with painted faces draped in Union Jacks stood cheek-to-jowl with the posh horsey set, Phillips became the first member of Britain's royal family to win an Olympic medal.

The equestrian venue might be the most thoroughly British site at the Games. It is set in London's oldest royal park, with the arena brushing up against the Old Royal Naval College and its twin domes designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The sport also evokes Britain's horse-loving culture and the country life that Britons treasure.

On Monday, Phillips helped put Great Britain in medal position with her clear round in the cross-country portion of the event, which drew 50,000 people to Greenwich Park. The scene resembled a major golf tournament, with people stacked 10 deep all along a grass course dotted with jumps and water hazards. The din grew so loud that Phillips said riders could not hear the stopwatches they use to time their ride.

The atmosphere at Tuesday's stadium jumping resembled golf, too. Most of the spectators knew the etiquette, which called for silence as each rider completed a course of jumps designed after British icons: Stonehenge, Trafalgar Square, and 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence. But the national pride occasionally caused a lapse in manners, as the announcer gently scolded a few who applauded when Germany's Peter Thomsen and his horse Barny knocked a rail down.

Four British riders competed, and the place was so hushed during their rounds that spectators could hear the heavy breath of the horses as they cleared each jump. There was a collective gasp as Phillips and her horse, High Kingdom, knocked down a rail, creating some drama. But teammate Mary King helped save the day.

Even the bobbies looked up to watch on the big outdoor screen as King guided Imperial Cavalier through a clear round, pumping a triumphant fist in the air while spectators let out a roar.

"It's been an emotional rollercoaster," said Phillips, 31, whose father Mark won a gold medal in eventing at the 1972 Olympics. "I'm quite relieved. It's incredible."

It became even more so when Phillips was presented with her medal by her mother, who kissed her on both cheeks. These Games have not gone exactly as the Brits expected; some medal hopefuls such as cyclist Mark Cavendish and diver Tom Daley have flopped, and there still is anger over the seats left unfilled at arenas that were said to be sold out.

But as the royals were rushed out of the jumping stadium, shadowed by a mob of photographers, they added a bit of excitement to an Olympics that the Brits have warmed up to -- even on a chilly gray day. "It was great to see the Queen was part of the opening ceremony," Anazodo said. "And to see the royals here, too. It's a great atmosphere in London. We've got the eyes of the world on us."

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