Shock withdrawal shakes France Olympic medal hopes

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Nicolas Touzaint withdrew minutes before the race as his horse had fallen in his stable on Friday during a thunderstorm.

11 August 2008  

HONG KONG - The Olympic equestrian competition was blown wide open late Saturday with the shock withdrawal of France's only real chance at a medal.

Nicolas Touzaint, 28, and his horse Galan de Sauvagere withdrew minutes before they were due into the arena in Hong Kong because the horse was lame, team trainer Thierry Touzaint said.

The withdrawal appears to have scuppered the chances of France, which had been aiming to defend their gold medal won in Athens in 2004.

The team had already suffered the loss of 2002 world champion Jean Teulere, who pulled out on Thursday because of an injury to his horse Espoir de la Mare.

Touzaint's horse, a 10-year-old grey gelding, injured itself after taking fright during a thunderstorm on Friday, Touzaint told reporters.

The horse fell in his stable, he said, injuring his right hind leg.

The accident had not seemed serious enough at the time for a vet to be called immediately, he said, but had gradually worsened in the day and half since.

Nicolas Touzaint told reporters he was already in the warm-up arena waiting to begin his dressage round as part of the three-day eventing when "we decided to retire about 10 minutes before we were due to go".

"Obviously we did not expect this, all the conditions were there for us to achieve a good result," he said.

His uncle, trainer Thierry, added: "This is really a nightmare. We came with great expectations, fabulous horses in great shape.

"We need time to understand the situation. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will do our best, but now we lack a leader. We hope to finish in the best possible conditions."

Touzaint and Galan de Sauvagere had been the linchpin of the French defence hopes. Together they won gold at the 2007 European Championships, and in May, riding another horse, Touzaint became the first French rider to win the Badminton Horse Trials.

The way now appears open for Australia's three-day eventing team to prove its gold medal mettle, with husband and wife duo Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks having completed impressive tests in the first dressage competitions.

[AFP / Expatica]

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