Olympic Equestrian Test Event Succeeds in Finding Issues to Fix
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LONDON, July 6–The Olympic equestrian test event succeeded in showing off a unique platform competition arena, an entertaining sport with a skyscraper skyline of a world capital as a backdrop and fulfilled what it was designed to do–find issues that need to be fixed in time for the Games next summer.
The single biggest issue that emerged Wednesday, the last day of the test event, was with the surface footing that eventers found to be great but dressage and jumping riders were critical and the organizers pledged to fix what they admitted was the “single most important issue.”
The CIC2* Green Park Eventing Invitational brought 40 horse and rider combinations from 21 countries for three days of eventing dressage, cross country and jumping on a unique platform arena held up by 2,100 pylons with a spectacular view from the spectator stands of the London skyline in one direction and the historic Royal Observatory in another direction.
The platform for the main arena will be expanded to 100 meters by 80 meters (yards) for the Olympics that begin next July 27 from the 85 by 75 meter size used for this test event. Spectator seating will also be increased to 20,000 from the 2,000-seat stand used at the test event.
The platform is made of plywood on a steel and aluminum frame. It took about three weeks to install.
The unique structure was required to meet a ban on any alterations to the park that is a World Heritage Site and there was no digging for the equestrian facilities, including the tent stabling that was praised for spaciousness and light.
For the Olympics, the platform will be ready at least six weeks before the start of the Games and the surface footing will have plenty of time to settle, which most riders and experts said should fix the issues raised by dressage and jumper riders that it was too loose and broke up after four or five dressage rides or during sharp turns in jumping.
“We were discussing the footing out there which is a bit tacky and heavy and holding to jump off,” said Laura Kraut of Wellington, Florida who jumped her Olympic team gold medal mount Cedric to two clear rounds in a test Wednesday.
“But, hey, it’s not the final surface, is it? If all goes well it should be fine next year.”
British dressage star, Laura Bechtolsheimer, offered an opinion that was shared by most riders of all three Olympic disciplines–dressage, eventing and jumping.
“It’s such a fantastic opportunity for our sports to be at the heart of the Games,” she said. “As a competitor it means I’ll have a true Olympic experience and stay with athletes from around the world and many other sports. And it’s also great for us to reach a new audience and increase interest. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a smooth build-up with Alf (Mistral Hojris)–we (Britain) have our strongest team ever and it’s our best chance of standing on that podium.”
Irish jumper rider David O’Brien said after his test ride, “Surreal. It’s a fantastic setting and totally unique. It’s also very picturesque with all the London buildings in the background.”
Tim Hadaway, Equestrian Competition Manager, said that as soon as the issue of the footing was raised by dressage riders, discussions began with specialists, international and local officials as well as the supplier of the footing on steps to improve it. The supplier provides footing for Britain’s Horse of the Year show and many other top competitions, he said, and wanted to do whatever was required to insure the best footing for 2012.
Thousands of school children, local residents–some of whom have been opposed the use of the popular royal park that traces its history back 600 years as an Olympic venue–and people involved in horse sports were invited to the test event. Many of them had never seen a horse before and the enthusiasm of the kids was appreciated by the riders.
For the record, the event was won by Great Britain’s Piggy French on DHI Topper W, with Germany’s Michael Jung on River of Joy second, Briton Pippa Funnell on Billy Shannon third and Australia’s Clayton Fredericks on Bendigo fourth.