Olympic Equestrian Test Event Begins, 1st for 2012 London Games

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The veterinary checks for the Olympic test event at Greenwich Park in London. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, July 3–The first large-scale event to test the London 2012 Olympic Games venues was launched Sunday with a two-star event that embraces all three Olympic equestrian disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping at historic Greenwich Park.

Twenty nations are participating in the CIC** Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational that is not so much about the results but to test as many aspects as possible a year in advance the venues, organization and infrastructure of the Olympics that are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 12 next year. Dressage is scheduled for Aug. 2-9, jumping Aug. 4-8 and eventing July 28-31.

For the test event, 41 horses were entered for teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S. as well as individuals from another 14 countries.

The competitors are only part of the action this week.

Officials from dressage and jumping of many countries as well as a large contingent of international veterinarians are here to critique the venue, and competitors from the two other disciplines are scheduled to visit Greenwich Park over the three days of competition to assess the facilities.

The selection of the beautiful and lush Greenwich Park of 180 acres (74Ha), sparked some local opposition of its use as the venue for the Olympic equestrian events because of its historic significance dating back to the 15th century and includes the Royal Observatory, the official keeper of Greenwich Mean Time from which all other time zones are determined.

The London Organizing Committee has implemented many costly innovations that have pushed construction costs to near £50 million (US$80 million) as part of their guarantee to return the park to its original state after the Olympics as it is a World Heritage Site.

The competition and warmup arenas for dressage and jumping are built on re-usable platforms so as not to cause long term damage to the grass. The surface is a sand and fiber mix similar to most arenas throughout continental Europe and growing in popularity in the U.S., unlike waxed footing that is more typical in the U.K. and was provided by a British company, Andrews & Bowen.

David O'Connor (left), president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation and coach of the Canadian eventing team, standing in a warmup arena built on a reusable platform. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The footing, too, brought with it special issues as only small trucks could be used to bring the surface to the venue because large trucks that would normally be used are too heavy for the roads around the park.

However, organizers arranged some pre-testing by top British jumper riders who gave thumbs-up to the footing.

Seb Coe, chairman of the organizing committee, said: “We have worked hard on the detail of our plans, and we will treat the park with respect and care. We have held the event outside school holidays to minimize disruption and many parts of the park remain open, including the whole of the west side. It has been impressive and exciting to see everything take place. Now it is time to put it all into action.”

Greenwich Park is within the London metropolitan area which means that riders will be housed in the Olympic Village with the estimated 12,000 athletes to be accommodated at the Games next year. The Olympic Village is being built to economically develop an area called Stratford that is about 30 minutes by auto from Greenwich Park or 20 minutes by the Docklands Light Railroad.

View from spectator stand overlooking equestrian stadium with St. Paul's Cathedral in the distance (center) and The Shard (left) which will be Europe's tallest building when completed later this year. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

For non-European visitors who fly in to Heathrow, the major international airport for the London area, be prepared for some of the worst congestion and lines longer than perhaps anywhere else in the world. A U.S. visitor who made the eight-hour overnight flight from Miami to Heathrow stood in line with many hundreds of others for more than two hours at passport control. The wait is so onerous that airport employees distribute bottles of water to passengers. The lines are considerably shorter and faster-moving for U.K. or European passport holders.

The least expensive and perhaps easiest way for most visitors to travel from Heathrow to Greenwich Park in a city that is snarled with serious traffic congestion is by the Undergound rail system, though it requires changing trains twice and takes about two hours.