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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Road to Athens: William Fox-Pitt
By Scarlett Elworthy
BBC Sport

William Fox-Pitt
Born: 20 January 1969
Based: Dorset
Selected major honours: European Champs team gold (2003, 2001), European Open Champs team gold (1997, 1995) individual silver (1997), World Equestrian Games team bronze (2002), Badminton (2004), Gatcombe (2003, 2000, 1995), Burghley (2002, 1994)

The crowd were up to their shins in mud and, as is always the case at Badminton in spring, the cross-country fences looked awesome.

But William Fox-Pitt and his horse Tamarillo are not afraid of a challenge and attacked the fixed rails, yawning ditches and steep banks with gusto and won.

It was a brave display but, hey, welcome to the world of three-day eventing - an equestrian triathlon that demands infinite courage.

The charming, well-educated Fox-Pitt could have chosen any path through life - so why live his years on the edge as an eventer?

"My mother rode for the British team and she got me started," he tells BBC Sport.

"My father also competed at Badminton and Burghley. Is it in my genes? I don't know, but I got hooked at an early age. It's a sport that demands everything of me."

Three decades on, Fox-Pitt is an established GB international and a serious contender for top team and individual honours at next month's Olympics.

And the Dorset-based star is not shy of shouldering big expectations.

"The sport has moved on fantastically since I first came along. Now there is funding and plenty of training available for elite riders," he says.

"It means there can be no excuses in Athens and we all feel we can win."

It's every event rider's dream to win Badminton. It's a fantastic lift ahead of the Olympics
William Fox-Pitt

Team GB have not claimed an Olympic title since Richard Meade partnered Laurieston to double gold at the Munich Games in 1972.

But Fox-Pitt, the Pony Clubbers' pin-up, is a focused man on a mission.

In 1996 he travelled to Atlanta for his first taste of Olympic competition but his dream of a place on the podium went unfulfilled.

Four years and a successful recovery from a broken leg later, he was denied a shot at Sydney, where Britain won silver, by a groin injury.

Now, having swept up so much of the senior silverware that counts, the 35-year-old feels his Olympic time may finally have come.

"At Atlanta, I kept feeling as though it was happening to someone else. I felt over-focused and the outcome (fifth in the team category) was not as good as we would have hoped for," he recalls.

"But this time I am older and wiser."

William Fox-Pitt
Fox-Pitt and Tamarillo emerge from the lake at Badminton
The Fox-Pitt of 2004 is also more assured, something he puts down to that maiden Mitsubishi Trophy success in April.

"It's every eventer's dream to win Badminton. It's great to have finally done it and it's a fantastic lift ahead of the Olympics."

As at Badminton, Fox-Pitt will again team up with Tamarillo at the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre.

Brilliant the majestic bay may be, Fox-Pitt knows Athens will be a huge test of stamina, nerves and talent for the pair of them.

"It will be extremely hot and the surface - newly-laid turf over rocky ground - will pose problems. In the dry, it will be rock hard, but in the wet it will turn slippery," he warns.

As for the competition, well there will be plenty of it.

"Australia, America, France and New Zealand, they'll all be in with a chance, so we are not complacent," he adds. "But our selectors have done a great job and we're up to the task."

I imagine Mark Todd would chuckle at the thought of me being compared to him
William Fox-Pitt
Fox-Pitt, though, is not so at ease with the increasingly frequent comparisons to eventing great Mark Todd.

The New Zealander won back-to-back individual golds at the 1984 and '88 Games on Charisma, took team silver in '92 and team bronze in 2000, and claimed a hat-trick of Badminton titles during his celebrated career.

"I imagine Mark Todd would chuckle at the thought of me being compared to him," says Fox-Pitt.

"Maybe we have the same tall, straight-backed profile in the saddle, but I would have had to have won two Olympic golds by now to be anywhere near his level and I haven't won one yet."

Quite possibly, that is all about to change.

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