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It looked a picture emerald green and studded with olive trees in the parched hills outside Athens. But the cross-country course at the Markopoulo equestrian centre on Tuesday inflicted a heavy blow on the notion that the three-day event might provide the first British gold medal of these Games.

The relatively short (under 10-minute), twisty course was unsuited to Pippa Funnell's long-striding mount Primmore's Pride, and the Surrey rider picked up a damaging 11.2 in time penalties to fall from second to eighth overall.

All is not yet lost: the team lie third behind France and Germany going into Wednesday's show-jumping finale and William Fox-Pitt and Tamarillo lie fifth after a heartening clear round. But the respective cushions enjoyed by France and Nicolas Touzaint, the French individual leader, may be enough to put both gold medals out of reach. Did Touzaint, the European champion, exhibit enough show-jumping weaknesses to offer grounds for hope today, Fox-Pitt was asked. “Not enough” was the rider's no-nonsense assessment.

Funnell's difficulties were exemplified at a picturesque water feature, two of whose four elements were shaped as fishing boats. Primmore's Pride crept over the first obstacle before picking his way through the rest of the combination with the aid of breathtakingly strong jumping from a virtually standing start.

“He is suited more to the old format, where you have the same jumping effort but three minutes longer,” said Funnell after her round. “The fences come quicker [here]. Because he is a long-striding, big galloper you have to spend time setting up …We were aware that time faults were likely.”

Fox-Pitt said Tamarillo, going next to last of the 75 entrants, had “zoomed around a bit like an old pony” and given him a “fantastic ride”. “We are not giving up,” he said when asked if the gold was still a prospect, but “we are not in the position we want to be in. Everyone was aware Pippa's horse might be slightly steady, but that's how he is.”

He, too, expressed disappointment the course was not a bit tougher, while praising the facilities overall. “The shame was that the direct routes weren't difficult enough to push people the long way,” he said. A stiff breeze meant that conditions were not as hot as had been feared, though banks of fans were used to cool horses down. With riders describing the ground as quite hard, the British team will be hoping their mounts don't wake up too sore this morning.

With Leslie Law 11th, Mary King 18th and Jeanette Brakewell 23rd, Britain lie six points behind Germany for whom Ingrid Klimke, her fingernails and toenails painted in the red black and orange of the national flag, rode the fastest round of the day. The gap with the US in fourth place is just four points, with the Australians the only other team close enough to retain realistic aspirations of a medal.

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