New Footing for London Olympics Approved by FEI

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One view from spectator stand overlooking equestrian stadium with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance (center) and The Shard (left), Europe’s tallest building. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Jan. 10–New footing of sand, felt and fiber will replace a waxed surface for the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events at London’s Greenwich Park this summer, the International Equestrian Federation confirmed Tuesday.

“The FEI has today given final sign-off on the footing that will be used for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Equestrian Events at Greenwich Park,” the organization that governs horse sports world wide announced.

“The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) conducted footing tests at a site near Preston in the north of England on 20 and 21 December 2011. The mix for the footing is now composed of non-waxed sand, felt and fiber.

“Testing of the new footing concluded on 21 December when international riders Geoff Billington (Jumping) and Richard Davison (Dressage) rode on the surface, which had been laid on the platform structure that will be used at Greenwich Park next year.”

Leopoldo Palacios, technical advisor to LOCOG, FEI Technical Delegate Frank Rothenberger, footing expert Bart Poels and FEI Director Jumping John Roche attended the test. The technical experts produced detailed reports that were submitted to the FEI Executive Board for further evaluation prior to sign-off.

The test was also attended by International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) representative John Whitaker, Jumping riders Peter Murphy and David McPherson, who attended as observers, two representatives from the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) and Peter Hart, LOCOG Modern Pentathlon Competition Manager.

“The riders gave some very positive feedback on the footing and this was backed up by the technical reports we received from the officials that attended the test in December,” FEI Secretary General Ingmar de Vos said.

“The FEI Executive Board has now signed off on the footing and, together with LOCOG, we are delighted that the process is now in place to deliver the best possible footing for the 2012 Games. We are looking forward to excellent Olympic and Paralympic sport at the wonderful Greenwich Park venue next summer.”

Dressage-news.com earlier reported that Bart Poels of Belgium and his U.S. business partner, Brett Raflowitz, of Palm City, Florida, will oversee preparation and installation of the new footing.

The partnership installed all of the footing at Florida’s massive Palm Beach International Equestrian Center–12 jumper/hunter arenas and five dressage rings as well as hundreds of other arenas around the world.

The waxed sand footing installed initially by the British company Andrews Bowen was determined after months of testing not to be suitable for the unique steel and plywood platform on which the horse competitions will be held at Greenwich Park within sight of the heart of London.

Andrews Bowen brought in Bart Poels and Brett Raflowitz to make the change in the riding surface that the London organizers described as the single most critical issue of equestrian competition.

Olympic dressage, eventing and jumping competitions and the equestrian portion of the pentathlon will be held July 27-Aug. 12, and the Paralympic equestrian Aug. 30-Sept. 4.

The London footing problems have centered around the competition arena on a unique plywood platform on a steel and aluminum frame of milk-crate sized blocks held up by 2,100 pylons to meet a requirement for no change to Greenwich Park. The wooden platform has also caused vibration problems.

The warmup arena is also built on a platform. Water is drained into specially installed tanks.

Greenwich Park has a spectacular view from the stands that will accommodate 23,000 spectators, of both the London city skyline and the historic Royal Observatory that keeps Greenwich Mean Time from which all time zones are determined.

Controversy has surrounded the selection of the 180-acre (74 Ha) historic Greenwich Park, a Royal Park designated a World Heritage site, which is close to downtown London and riders will live in the Olympic village, not always the case as equestrian competitions are frequently distant from the main stadiums. At the 2008 Games in Beijing, horse events were 1,220 miles (1,963 km) away in Hong Kong.

The initial estimate of £6 million (US$9.35 million) for constructing the Greenwich Park equestrian venue has, according to British press reports, exploded to around £60 million (US$93.5 million). As the site has to be restored to its original condition there is no direct “legacy” benefit of the equestrian facilities to London.