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Whitaker back in the saddle for Europeans.

Byline: ANDREW BALDOCK Sports Correspondent

HUDDERSFIELD'S Michael Whitaker will return to the summit of European showjumping next week - four years after hitting rock-bottom.

The 53-year-old admits there were times when he questioned his future in the sport following a four-month ban imposed by equestrian's world governing body.

An apparent mix-up in feeds meant Whitaker's stallion Tackeray was inadvertently doped, and the multiple major championship medallist paid a heavy price following a test at an event in La Baule, France.

The presence of a hormone called altrenogest in a feed-calming product called Regumate led to his suspension. Regumate can be given to mares, but not stallions.

Not only was Whitaker ineligible for the 2009 European Championships on home soil in Windsor, he also initially found himself excluded from future Olympic Games selection before winning an appeal to the British Olympic Association.

"The ban was tough. It was stupid, it was a genuine mistake, and they knew that," said Whitaker.

"I had never had anything like that before - I thought they were quite hard on me.

"Yes, there were times when I questioned the whole situation. Halfway through the ban, especially, it was particularly hard. Put it this way, you soon find out who your friends are."

Although Whitaker narrowly missed out on London 2012 selection - the British quartet of Nick Skelton, Ben Maher, Scott Brash and Peter Charles won team gold - he has gained team boss Rob Hoekstra's vote for the European Championships in Herning, Denmark, starting tomorrow week.

Maher and Brash will be alongside him, together with Will Funnell and Robert Smith. Whitaker, though, could be the lucky omen.

Britain has won European team gold four times since the competition's inception 38 years ago, and Whitaker was part of those successful combinations on three occasions.

He has claimed a total of 11 European team and individual medals.


RETURN: Whitaker
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Aug 13, 2013
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