Olympic Arena Footing Gets Approval from FEI

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British soldiers securing the gates of London's Greenwich Park, venue for the three Olympic equestrian disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, July 19–The all-important footing for the arena for Olympic dressage, eventing and jumping competition at London’s historic Greenwich Park passed its final review by the International Equestrian Federation as construction of the venue was still underway Thursday, eight days before the opening of the Games.

British soldiers, who were brought in at the last moment to provide security for the Games when the civilian contractor failed to provide enough guards, manned security checkpoints and patrolled the Olympic venues.

In the case of Greenwich Park, whose 183 acres (73 Ha) are heavily forested, a two-hour walk around the entire perimeter of the oldest of Britain’s Royal Parks, dating back to 1427, saw dozens of soldiers patrolling the grounds and manning security checkpoints.

Construction crews worked feverishly on everything from laying new sod to completing temporary bridges over busy highways for entry to the competition.

Seating has been constructed for 23,000 spectators for dressage and jumping with spectacular panoramic views of the city of London. Because of security concerns, dressage-news.com agreed to a request by British military officers not to publish photos of the unfinished venue. It is not visible from outside the grounds.

The 2012 Olympics equestrian stadium during the test event with the London skyline backdrop. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Reports from officials report no serious affect from heavy rains that have drenched England in recent months, though some temporary structures had to be recostructed when they were damaged by water.

Debbie Jevans, the London Organizing Commitee Director of Sport, who was present at footing review: “With support from the FEI, the contractors and our own team have done a great job to get the make-up of the surface right, and we now believe this will be a world class surface for the equestrian athletes in a stunning Olympic venue.”

The surface was changed based on feedback from riders and officials after the test event a year ago.

The original surface was waxed sand covering a giant plywood platform resting on thousands of pneumatic pylons.

The footing was changed to a sand and fiber mix with a binder, similar to the footing at the 2008 Olympic equestrian stadium and other top shows in the world such as Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida.

Two high-level competition horses were ridden on the surface and jumped fences as part of the assessment of the footing of which about 8,500 tonnes will be used at Greenwich.

FEI Technical Advisor Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela, Jumping Technical Delegate Frank Rothenberger of Germany and footing experts Oliver Hoberg of Germany and and Bart Poels of Belgium were among the experts making the assessment of the new footing. Olympic course designer Bob Ellis of Great Britain was also present.

“All were unanimous in their view that the footing that has been produced is of a quality that would be expected of an Olympic Games and performs consistently across the full extent of the arena, as well as on the training and warm-up areas,” the FEI said in a statement.

The conclusions of those present were supported by the scientific work carried out on the surface by Lars Roepstorff, professor in equine functional anatomy at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Lars has been carrying out research on the properties of equestrian surfaces around the world as part of a long-term scientific footing study for the FEI. He measured properties including surface firmness, elasticity, the dampening capacity of the footing and grip. He considers the London 2012 footing to be amongst the best and particularly the most consistent that he has worked on, a view supported by the FEI representatives.

“A lot of work has been done on this footing with the involvement of many experts and we are really happy with the final result”, said FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos, who was also present.

“It is the first time that there has been such a scientific approach to footing and hopefully this will be part of the long-term legacy as it helps us to determine the parameters that can be used in the future to establish scientifically approved criteria for optimal footing.”