London Prepares Series (GBR), 7 July 2011 – Greenwich Park in London (GBR) is a much quieter place today as the runners and riders, supporters, officials and most of the staff who helped create a magical atmosphere during this week’s test event have departed from the site where the equestrian Olympic Games will take place in 2012.
The Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) has already been hailed a huge success, but after a week of hectic activity, and three days of intense competition, it is now time to reflect in the aftermath.
The lasting memory for those lucky enough to be there this week is the sound of the excited school-children screaming with delight as they witnessed top-class horse sport at close quarters for the very first time. For the hardened professionals, both in the saddle and on foot performing their various essential tasks, it was a heart-warming experience.
A generation of young people, who would otherwise never be exposed to the sport, were curious, enthralled and intrigued by what they saw, and they’ve shaken the foundations of a sometimes conservative world. They’ve reminded us all that horse sport isn’t just about equine talent and rider skills. It’s also about fun and entertainment, about embracing the partnership between man and horse and presenting it in a whole new light to a world of people who, given the opportunity, will learn to love it.
There is a sense right now that the equestrian events at London 2012 could mark the beginning of a whole new era, and how timely that will be for equestrian sport which celebrates its centenary as part of the Olympic movement next year.
TIME TO REFLECT
For all that however, it is time to reflect on the learning of the last few days. A key player in ensuring it all happened was Tim Hadaway, LOCOG’s Equestrian Competition Manager, who spoke about some of the extra challenges unearthed by the test run during the week. Sometimes it is “nuts and bolts” detail that needs to be hammered out, in other cases it is more sensitive issues.
On Tuesday, following the thrilling Cross Country phase, he said, “It’s been an interesting few days so far – it was encouraging just to get the horses here, that worked out really well and we are very pleased with the stabling. We are monitoring the temperature in the stables on a daily basis and we are considering using mechanical ventilation next year. Today we learned a lot about spectators. It was fantastic to see the school-children enjoying themselves and making all that noise, but they also present big challenges – we may have to think a bit more about the width of the course itself and how we direct people around the Park.”
FEI Veterinary Director, Graeme Cooke, was impressed by the huge support offered by members of the veterinary profession. Yesterday he said, “We have had the best expertise you could ever hope for onsite here this week. The number of hugely experienced vets who volunteered to give of their time has been incredible!”
He pointed out that the event has provided some food for thought. “We’ve identified a few things we would like to examine further including fence distribution – the distance from one fence to another, especially where the horses experience strenuous activity coming uphill – in general, horse recovery rates were well within capacity despite the fact that it was really very hot – that ensured that Cross Country day really was a good test. But I think we might need to look again at where the fences will be located, especially over the longer track for next year,” he said.
He was pleased with the Anti-Doping procedures. “We had the biggest Anti-Doping Team ever put together in the UK in action here this week. There was a training course for them last Sunday with some instructors from British Horse Racing included on the panel, and all this complements the new FEI approach to Anti-Doping – it’s all about education,” he added.
Many riders and officials not directly involved in the test event came along to experience Greenwich Park first-hand. The big German contingent included Andreas Dibowski, Peter Thomsen, Ingrid Klimke, Bettina Hoy, Dirk Schrade and Simone Dietermann. “They are here to get the feel for the whole thing, to see the stabling and to familiarise themselves with the surroundings,” said Uta Helkenberg from the German National Federation. “They are looking forward to living in the Olympic Village and having contact with athletes from the other Olympic disciplines next year. For us that it is very important – to be part of the Olympic atmosphere and to be closer to the other sports so that our own sport gets greater recognition.”
American journalist and photographer Ken Braddick expressed an opinion shared by many of his colleagues in the media. “The Park is absolutely amazing – there’s going to be a tremendous Olympic feeling for the equestrian competitors and all the rest of us here next year because we are in the heart of this fantastic city in a venue totally dedicated to our Olympic disciplines.” Next year the media centre will be housed in the elegant library at the nearby National Maritime Museum, probably the most beautiful media centre for the entire London 2012 Olympic Games.
For LOCOG, the successful staging of the equestrian test event is something of a milestone. Debbie Jevans, LOCOG Director of Sport, said yesterday, “Six years ago today we won the bid in Singapore, and the last few days have proved that Greenwich is the most spectacular venue – we are very proud of what Tim [Hadaway, LOCOG Equestrian Competitions Manager] and Jeremy [Edwards, LOCOG Venue Manager] have done so far – to see the horses here has been wonderful! To see a completely different crowd watching equestrianism has been exciting too – many of the children who came here this week had never seen a horse before – and one of them said that dressage was a bit like moon-walking!”
She pointed out that there is still work to be done. “There will be a debrief now between ourselves and the FEI – this was a test and there will be some learning. The platform was a great success but, as always, the devil is in the detail. The initial reaction to the footing was that it was very successful. The Cross Country will be technical. William Fox-Pitt said that it will be a real test of athleticism and that the ideal ‘Greenwich horse’ will need to be athletic and capable of focusing on a technically challenging course.
We have been respectful to the Park itself every step of the way – we have taken very great care to protect its integrity and we’ve had a ‘no dig’ policy, even taking the urine offsite with ducts from the stables. We will be opening the Park as quickly as possible to the public after the Modern Pentathlon takes place this coming weekend,” she explained.
A year ahead, it seems that fans, athletes, officials and everyone else involved in the 2012 London Olympic Equestrian Events can look forward to a Games to remember.
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