HONG KONG (Reuters) - Eton schoolboy Alex Hua Tian fell off his horse during his cross country ride on Monday, ending the hopes of China’s first Olympic three-day eventer.
In equestrianism — with China having but the shallowest of talent pools — the 18-year-old found himself cheered by Chinese all over the country.
Hua Tian’s horse Chico clipped the “Yu Hua Tai Rockery” fence which poetically refers to raindrops and alludes to “melancholy” in Chinese literature, according to the course designer.
“I can’t believe it has all ended with a fall,” said Hua Tian, who punched the turf after coming off his mount.
“You only have a second to make a decision and I made the wrong decision,” he said after his automatic elimination from the competition staged in Hong Kong.
Pursued by a large pack of Chinese and Hong Kong journalists, Hua Tian repeatedly parried suggestions that he had buckled under the weight of China’s medal-hungry expectations.
“I’m sorry for letting everybody down,” said the slender and lanky teenager, who has an English mother and a Chinese father.
“Hopefully in London 2012 (Olympics), I’ll come out more experienced and have a better chance.”
Hua Tian left Hong Kong at the age of 10 and began training with husband and wife Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks. The couple are competing for Australia at the Games.
Eton, one of Britain’s most exclusive fee-paying schools, gave Hua Tian a year off to concentrate on his riding. He is due back at his desk next month to finish off his A-levels (senior examinations).
Hua Tian’s father later walked back from the undulating green course built over part of a golf course, to be swiftly engulfed by microphones and television cameras.
“No, no, no, I’m not disappointed,” he said .
“It’s heartbreaking, but it’s all right ... Anything can happen. You just have to have a strong heart.”
Reporting by James Pomfret; editing by Keith Weir