Norfolk medal hope Piggy French out of London Olympics
Norfolk eventing star Piggy French is 'broken-hearted' after seeing her Olympic dream cruelly destroyed.
French, Badminton runner-up last year and a former European individual silver medalist, will miss London 2012 due to her Olympic Test event-winning horse DHI Topper W suffering an injury. French's other top horse, Jakata, is also injured.
French, who comes from North Elmham but is based in Leicestershire, will be replaced by Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz alongside world number one William Fox-Pitt, five-time Olympian Mary King, double Olympic bronze medal winner Tina Cook and former world champion Zara Phillips.
All appeared well at the weekend when she gave Topper a final competitive run before London at the Barbury International event in Wiltshire. They finished third in a CIC two-star class – but a statement on French's website today confirmed the horse had suffered a 'minor injury'.
The statement read: 'We are devastated to announce that Piggy will be unable to fulfil her long-held dream of competing at the London 2012 Olympics. DHI Topper W has sustained a minor injury, and while he will be back to fight another day, he will not be fit for London. In a cruel twist of fate, Piggy's other Olympic hope Jakata also suffered an injury towards the end of last month.'
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On Sunday French spoke of her excitement at being selected for London, and how it had been a dream that was 'five years in the making'.
But it is all now such a different story for one of the finest event riders Britain has produced in years.
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'I am broken-hearted,' she said. 'My dreams are shattered, but most of all I feel so sorry for my support team that have been such a vital part of my success, and for my family and joint owners, the Underwoods.
'My great friend Nicola Wilson is to take my place, and I wish her every success with Opposition Buzz.
'I hope that Team GB have a fantastic Games and do our country proud.
'I will be rooting for them every step of the way, and I look forward to joining them on the team again in the near future.'
For Wilson, from Northallerton in Yorkshire, it is now an unexpected opportunity to compete in the biggest event of her life.
Considered by many as a surprise omission from the original team, 35-year-old Wilson and Opposition Buzz are an established international combination.
They were members of Britain's 2009 European gold medal-winning team and the quartet that won World Equestrian Games gold in Kentucky a year later.
Opposition Buzz is widely regarded among the world's top cross-country exponents, which he underlined again at Barbury over the weekend with a brilliant clear three-star round inside the time.
Wilson's first thoughts, though, were for French.
'This is horrific and fabulous at the same time,' she said. 'I just don't know what to say.
'I am devastated for Piggy and I wouldn't wish this on anybody. She has become a very close friend, and I feel for her so much.
'What an emotional rollercoaster. Obviously, I am so excited for Rosemary Search (the horse's owner), myself and my support team, but so saddened at the same time for it to be at the expense of such a good friend.
'To be thinking about London now, is amazing though - having very much told myself it wouldn't happen. We will definitely be ready.'
British equestrian team leader Will Connell said: 'All of us feel so very sorry for Piggy, her support team and her owners.
'Piggy is a truly outstanding athlete, a wonderful team member and one of life's good human beings. However, horses have a habit of giving great highs but also terrible lows.'
The British eventing team for London was announced last month, and Connell added: 'We aim to always select as early as possible.
'One of the knock-on effects of this is that there is a longer period between selection and the championships, and thus a longer period of time in which horses can encounter a problem.
'The horses have to be fit, especially for the terrain we will encounter at Greenwich Park, and they cannot be wrapped in cotton wool.
'While we feel for Piggy, we must look forward and we now welcome Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz.
'What a wonderful combination joins the team. Nicola and Opposition Buzz have been the pathfinders for the team at the last three championships and have an enviable championship record.'