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Pippa primed for Athens gold

Briton Pippa Funnell followed last year's unprecedented eventing Grand Slam with a slump in the first half of 2004, she was now back in peak form for the Olympics.
PTI | By Erik Kirschbaum (Reuters), Athens
PUBLISHED ON AUG 12, 2004 01:33 AM IST

Briton Pippa Funnell followed last year's unprecedented eventing Grand Slam with a slump in the first half of 2004, but the gold medal hopeful said on Wednesday she was now back in peak form for the Olympics.

Funnell, who won a team silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, said she was not concerned about her modest achievements this spring after a spectacular 2003, when she won at Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley.

"It's been a bad spring," she said. "But I knew this year was not going to be a repeat of 2003, which was unbelievable. I was saving my best horses for Athens and concentrated on younger horses. I've stayed confident despite the bad run."

The 35-year-old worked closely with a sports psychologist earlier in her career to help her overcome occasional bouts of nerves, learning how to blot out the 'negative vibes' that sometimes hit her at major competitions.

Despite her poor form in three-day eventing competition in the run-up to the Games, Funnell was confident that Athens would be very different.

"I do believe as a team, if we all go how we're capable of going, we are capable of winning gold," Funnell said

"I'm in the Olympics because I'd like to win a medal. It wouldn't really interest me to come if I didn't feel as a team or, as an individual, we were capable of coming home with a medal. Just coming wouldn't interest me."

Funnell became something of a celebrity in Britain with her grand slam title, and her down-to-earth style has helped take some of the elitist image away from eventing -- the triathlon of equestrian combining dressage, show jumping and cross country.

"The publicity from winning the grand slam has made people more aware of the sport," she said. "What I think comes across is that a lot of us are pretty normal. We're running businesses. We're not in the sport because we've all got fortune.

"We're in it to make a living. The general public had a very elite image."

Even though the sport has long been considered a bastion of British privilege, neither Funnell nor any of her team mates has the sort of posh accent associated with that background.

"It's an image where I suppose it was a sport just for the upper class 15 or 20 years ago but it's now a sport for the middle class as well," Funnell said after a training session.

"I think it makes a difference in your competitiveness too. If you haven't got financial security behind you it makes you hungrier to succeed because you've got to.

"If you've got huge financial behind you it's not the end of the world if you don't win because it's not going to change your life."

Funnell, who never had the wherewithal to own a horse and still cleans out horse stalls at times, said she rides to win.

"I've always been very, very hungry," she said.

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