Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Olympic Test Event: London 2012 Will Bring a Country Sport to the City

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London 2012 Banner at Bankside (1542)
London's preparing! The host city for the 2012 Olympics is running an equestrian "test event" over the inner-city park that will be home to all the equestrian events next summer during the Games. Photo by Ollie O'Brien.
The Olympics began this week in London. Not really, it was just the test event to get the feel of the equestrian facilities in Greenwich Park, but there's no doubt that the 2012 Olympics is only a little more than a year away, and there's no better way to make people take it seriously than to have a walk around the new facility. Forty top riders took part in the test event, which was at the two-star level and ended on Wednesday with show jumping. Dozens more riders attended as observers to check the lay of the land, or the arena, depending on whether they are eventers, dressage riders, or show jumpers.

An above-ground arena and stabling area was designed to be built in London's Greenwich Park for this week's Olympic Test Event and next year's Olympics. The temporary dressage and jumping ring means that the Olympics will disturb the historic park as little as possible. Photo by Khedara.
Notice that the grass underneath the dressage and showjumping arena was not dug up; the 5000 square-meter arena merely perches atop the grand lawn on 2100 legs. Presumably they are sunk into the ground.

Great Britain's Piggy French, the eventual individual winner, lead from the dressage phase. Just as much as everyone cares who wins, people care what the arena surface is like, how the warmup rings work, where the start for cross-country is located, and dozens of other aspects of the event. Eventing is only one of the equestrian sports, including modern pentathalon, that will use the facility.

Nina Ligon represents Thailand during the dressage round of the Equestrian eventing at Greenwich Park, in south London July 4, 2011. The Equestrian eventing was one of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) test events for the London Olympics. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT EQUESTRIANISM OLYMPICS)

Nina Ligon of Thailand (and Virginia, USA) rode her dressage test in the bright sun on Monday. Nina's farrier, David Watson, accompanied Team Thailand to London.

Haydn Price, head farrier for the Olympic Test Event (© photo by Fran Jurga)
The man of the hour is Haydn Price, head farrier for London 2012's test event. Haydn is from Wales and is normally Great Britain's team farrier for dressage and show jumping.

Haydn was ecstatic about the facilities that have been built at Greenwich Park--which include pop-up stables and an equally pop-up 5000 square-meter arena standing on 2100 legs. He described that setting as "lovely" by email and went on to comment:

"It is going to be an amazing event next year, (one) where the event will be taken to the people rather than the people taken to the event.

"The atmosphere here today has been incredible: the local schools have been made an integral aspect of this event by being invited to attend. Children of all ages have today experienced something truly magnificent; many of then had never seen a horse other than the occasional mounted police officers that patrol London and the district.

"Yep, the countryside has well and truly arrived in the heart of the City of London!"

The wash stall; the "pop-up" Olympic stabling area is built above ground on platforms; horses come and go on ramps. (© FEI photo by Kit Houghton)

Equestrian Route in Greenwich Park for 2012 Olympics
I had to ask what a "Saxon Tumuli" is (or are). Apparently they are ancient burial mounds.
Here's a map of Greenwich Park with the route of the cross-country overlaid, although I am not sure if this is the four-star cross-country route proposed for the Olympics or the five-minute 2-star used for the test event. What the Google Earth view doesn't show you is the undulating terrain, which made for a course with lots of tight turns and ups and downs.

This brief video, courtesy of shows some action from the cross-country on Tuesday. The opening shots are from a jump where a group of vocal and local schoolchildren dominated the spectators. They added a very different dimension to the traditional course observation etiquette.

How's this for great community public relations? The schoolchildren of Greenwich are working to “design a Greenwich jump” which will feature in the cross-country course for London 2012.

The right stud for Olympic terrain

Riders chose to stud up today. From a report by John Thier on earlier today: "People were using some huge studs today.  The ground was maybe a bit firm and not the least bit muddy, but it was still slick.

"I don't know how to describe the ground at Greenwich--it isn't sand but it isn't clay and it doesn't have the feel of plain dirt.  It does not have much hold and after the first few rides word quickly filtered back to the barns to really stud up.  With the big studs the ground rode fine."

A photo slide show from Tuesday's cross-country, courtesy of

Wednesday's program consisted of two consecutive show jumping competitions to determine both the team result (winner: Great Britain) and the individual high-scorer (Piggy French of Great Britain). A showjumping demonstration by specialist jumpers and riders also gave the arena a workout.

Showjumping in an outdoor urban setting was the grand finale of the test event on Wednesday. (© Kit Houghton/FEI image)

Leader of Greenwich Council Mr. Chris Roberts was quoted on the web site as saying that being a host borough continued “to be a source of tremendous pride” for his district.

"(One thousand) of our residents are working on the Olympic sites, our businesses have secured something like £70million worth of contracts and we have the most iconic venues of the Games, which will continue to support our tourism in the years following the Games," Roberts is quoted as saying.

Just out of site in this shot is the Greenwich Maritime Museum, one of the greatest historical museums in the world, and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the 0 hour by which all clocks in the world are set and time zones and meridiens of longitude are determined.

In case you ever wondered: there is no daylight savings time in GMT.

If you're looking for Greenwich on your GPS, the longitude coordinate is 0° 0' 0". Latitude, however, is 51° 28' 38"N.

At night, a green laser cuts through the night sky in Greenwich to mark the meridien.

Test event individual winner Piggy French of Great Britain (© FEI photo by Kit Houghton)
So what happens on Wednesday night? Does someone pull a plug? Does the arena have a fold-up command, will the stables deflate, do the crowds just disappear?

The main part of the park has already been re-opened to the public, after being closed off during the cross-country.

You get the feeling that Greenwich Park--which is 568 years old--might just go back to being a place for picnics and dog walkers. There's probably a plan to fill in all the hoofprints, and leave no trace of the horses behind.

But they'll be back, and they're bringing their friends. Word is spreading around the world that Greenwich has passed The Test, with flying colors.

Let's hope that Olympic mascots Wenlock (left) and Mandeville (right) aren't allowed anywhere near the horses. (Photo by Matt Northam)

The Olympic Rings, the symbol of the Olympic Games, are illuminated at St Pancras international station in London March 3, 2011. The first set of rings in London were unveiled at the station which will carry visitors to the Olympic Park in east London. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS TRANSPORT)

The Olympic Rings hang in a London train station; I wonder if they are pointing the way to Platform 9 3/4? There's no question that for many people, a trip to London for the Olympics next year will be full of Harry Potter symbolism. I wonder if the cross-country or show jumping designers will theme an obstacle or jump that will be recognizable as such only to the wizards in the crowd.

Travel from the coffin bone to the periople in a special microscopic image; just click here to order this poster created by Dr Lisa Lancaster at the Equine Foot Laboratory at Michigan State University.

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