The five-man German team moved into top spot over the Australians after a day of thrills, spills and surprises that saw one medal hopeful crash out and the field left wide open going into the final component of the competition. The strong showing by the Germans also saw two of the team move to first and second in the individual rankings.
Hinrich Romeike, riding Marius, was number one, on 50.20 penalty points, with teammate Ingrid Klimke, who rode Abraxxas, behind him on 50.70. Klimke said the course - the shortest in Olympic history at 4,560 metres with an optimum time of eight minutes - had proved the challenge she'd expected.
"I wished it was longer than eight minutes because it went so quickly," she said after completing the 39 jumps at the Beas River course in eight minutes 43 seconds, with 17.20 time penalties added on.
"I wished to go again because it was so much fun," she said.
That can-do attitude suffused the German team, riding high on 158.10 points after knocking the Australians into second on 162.00. None of the riders completed the course in eight minutes. Australia's Shane Rose was fastest round in 8 minutes 23 seconds, with 9.20 time penalties added.
Australians Megan Jones, on Irish Jester, and Clayton Fredericks, on Ben Along Time, were in third and fourth place respectively in the individual rankings. But Lucinda Fredericks, wife of Clayton, was bumped down to eleventh place after leading the field following Sunday's dressage event.
Great Britain's team was in third place on 173.70 points after the cross country, with May King on Call Again Cavalier fifth in the individual rankings on 56.10. The three-and-a-half-hour event took place in unrelenting drizzle in the New Territories near Hong Kong's northern border with China.
Many fences were designed to incorporate Chinese characteristics, and included a Great Wall, chopsticks, a traditional courtyard house, and a pagoda and birdcages, both of which seemed to pose the greatest problems.
A thick underlay of sand aimed to absorb the innate moisture of the terrain - seconded from a golf course for the Olympics - and ensured the course, while presenting a physical and mental challenge, was as safe as possible.
As it was, eight riders were eliminated, but no injuries were sustained by horse or rider.
The biggest upset was US medal hope Amy Tryon, riding Poggio II - with whom she won individual bronze at the World Equestrian Games in 2006. They fell at the birdcages.
New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson, aboard Lord Killinghurst, was another upset elimination, along with the inexperienced local favourite Alex Hua Tian of China, Igor Atrohov of Russia, Jaroslav Hatla of the Czech Republic and Sergio Iturriaga of Chile.