2012 Olympic Equestrian Stadium Wins Rave Reviews from Test Event Riders
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LONDON, July 4–The 2012 Olympic equestrian stadium won rave reviews Monday from international eventing riders competing at the London Games’ first test competition for any sport, with top British riders admitting they were captivated by the experience of riding in a bustling world capital against a backdrop of skyscrapers.
Officials of dozens of national equestrian federations, judges, veterinarians and others directly involved in the Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping joined 40 horse and rider combinations from 23 nations competing at this CIC** Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational. Their primary mission was to assess the facility and organization.
And there is much to assess, not least the competition stadium and warmup arenas.
It is like a giant Lego land–everything temporary and reusable.
Arenas constructed on milk crate-sized blocks, with pillars that can raise and lower parts by fractions of inches (centimeters). Stands to seat 23,000 spectators temporary. Stables, offices for critical on-site infrastructure and VIP catering all in tents. Even cross country water jumps constructed on dirt specially brought in so as to avoid digging into any part of the 180-acre (74Ha) park that is a World Heritage Site.
All being built at cost edging up to £50 million (US$80 million) for next year’s three Olympic equestrian disciplines, the equestrian portion of the pentathlon July 27-Aug. 12 and the Paralympic equestrian Aug. 30-Sept. 4.
As it has since the venue was first announced, the choice of Greenwich Park that traces its lineage back to the 15th century brought out a small band of protestors Monday–very orderly and very British with one elderly woman in a sundress and beret accompanied by her terrier.
But riders in Monday’s dressage phase had nothing but praise for the venue, especially the footing that is a mixture of sand and fiber similar to most arenas throughout continental Europe and growing in popularity in the U.S.
Mark Todd, New Zealand’s eventing legend, said after his ride: “It looks great. It’s a novelty for us to be in a big city. Normally, Olympic eventing is way out on a limb.”
Great Britain’s Pippa Funnell said: ” “So far they have done a fantastic job. It’s surreal. It feels so untraditional and modern. You can feel what the atmosphere is going to be like next year.”
British team mate William Fox-Pitt: “Wow! It has an Olympic feel already and this is just a test event.”
Julian Stiller of the U.S.: “I was quite skeptical but they have done a great job on it. It’s amazing to ride cross country and look down on the city.”
Waylon Roberts of Canada’s 2007 Pan American Games team: “It’s absolutely incredible what they’ve done here. It’s a wonderful job and no expense has been spared. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Karin Donckers of Belgium: “It feels like a championship already.”
Michael Jung of Germany: “It is brilliant to ride here. The arena is amazing and it’s a nice park.”
Most attention at this event is focused on testing the facilities and organization, but after the dressage phase Great Britain’s Piggy French on DHI Topper W was leading with 34.70 penalty points, with Australia’s Clayton Fredericks on Bendigo that he bought specially as a contender for 2012 in second place on 40.90 and Germany’s Michael Jung on River of Joy in third place on 41.40.
Although eventing has a large fan base in Britain as shown by ticket sales for next year’s cross country day being the most popular, Tuesday’s cross-country test is closed to the public.
Organizers invited only 5,000 spectators, about 2,500 residents of Greenwich and 2,500 people involved in the sport.