May 25 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Amid the praise, protests and passion for horses at the London 2012 equestrian test event a top rider also declared that the surface felt “pudding” like.
British Nations Cup riders David McPherson, Nick Skelton and Will Funnell all raised concerns about the waxed sand and fibre-based surface’s performance - but these are the niggles for the snagging list that a test event are supposed to find out.
London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton, in what has been a widely-accepted successful first major test event of a temporary 2012 venue, believed that the controversial choice of Greenwich Park in south-east London “had won everybody over”.
Everyone can see “how beautiful it is” having the equestrian here, he said.
The three-day competition featuring 40 top riders was the first large-scale event in the test series preparing London sites for the 2012 Games.
Everything from what the riders felt, how the staff, volunteers and the stabling coped were put under the microscope. More than 2,000 people were working behind the scenes during the cross-country and police, transport officials and the local council all had to be involved in staging the event.
Timing and scoring technology, field of play, venue installation and workforce are some of the key issues that were tested. All opinions, including those of the riders, staff and officials, will be fed in to a massive debrief.
Of the surface McPherson said: “For me, the surface is nowhere near good enough. It needs an enormous amount of work.
“I think it is a consensus between the riders that there is a sort of a pudding feeling, and this cannot be because it’s our Olympics and everything needs to be perfect.
“If it is like this next year it will make a 1.65m fence feel like jumping 1.80m. It needs straightening out.”
Describing the ground as “a little bit dead and dense at the moment” Skelton, winner of 12 world and European medals and a multiple-Olympian, noted: “It has only been down a few days, and I think before the Games are held next year it will be down five or six weeks beforehand, which will help it.
“I found it heavy. I would like to see it a little bit quicker and the horses moving across it easier.”
In contrast world number two William Fox-Pitt thought the surface was “fantastic”. He said the historic setting had the “wow” factor while British team mate Piggy French added that riding the dressage course was like being in a film set.
She said: “Turning to your right ... and seeing the view (of Canary Wharf’s skyline) is surreal. You think you are in a movie or something, but it’s happening.”
Tim Hadaway, London 2012’s equestrian competition manager, accepted that the surface “is always a tricky one in equestrian competitions”.
“There are a lot of views. We are very much taking those views on board and are working with the equestrian federations plus our experts and advisers to ensure that it is bang on for next year,” he said.
Whoever at Greenwich Council decided to invite local children, many of whom are new to watching a riding competition, to watch the cross-country event had made a “very smart” move, according to Ingmar de Vos, general secretary of the FEI world governing body.
Their cheering and wide-eyed awe at seeing the horses helped bring an Olympic buzz to the test. A cross-country course had been installed on the east side of Greenwich Park.
Mr de Vos hopes the non-traditional venue in a city setting, unlike most Olympic and top equestrian events, will also help promote the sport to a new audience.
He said: “A lot of the people who came were not horse people. It was certainly a good idea to bring the children and the public. The children were really charmed by the horses and the competition.”
Mr de Vos said it is “a big relief” that the test ended well but added that he had always been “quite confident” because of the experienced team working on it.
Pippa Funnell, who came third in the 40-strong invitational test competition, raved about the fact that at London 2012 the riders will be in town and near the other competitions, rather than being isolated at a venue miles away. She also admitted being charmed by the enthusiastic children.
Funnell said: “There were so many people here that were not from the horsey world which was so good. The children were trying to race us to the water jump. If I had my way I would have the kids come in to the stables and spend time here. It has been special.”
Importantly, the major engineering involved in the custom-designed podium which is set on metal columns to level the ground and avoid damage, had worked well.
It formed the lightweight temporary equestrian arena to host dressage and jumping, as well as laser shooting for the Modern Pentathlon World Cup final event on July 9-10. This is the next big technical hurdle for London 2012 as new laser guns will be tested for the first time.
Mr de Vos said: “The podium is great and if you are sitting on the stands you do not have the feeling that you are sitting on a podium.”
London 2012 had to pass 42 strict planning conditions to ensure the natural environment was protected, with all matters monitored by an advisory group which includes Royal Parks, Natural England, English Heritage and Sport England.
The protesters, worried about the damage that could be caused, may have been in a thorn in the side of the organisers but, according Hadaway, “it has been very much part of getting us to where we have got to”.
For Hadaway, after more than two years working on the project, seeing the first horse arrive “and poke his head around a tree was a very surreal moment”.
Looking towards the challenge of the work still left to do before the Games, he said “there is still a long way to go”.
Under watchful eyes the venue has to be removed and carefully reinstated.
Hadaway adds: “We go on having learned from this event and select all of our volunteers, select all of our officials for next year and we make all those final adjustments to the design of the venue so that it is working from grooms’ perspective, the athletes’ perspective and the horses’ perspective.
“It is about getting down to the detail for instance where the horses walk from A to B.
“There is still a little bit more work to do on the cross-country course with the design of that. We still have work to do.”
Reinstatement of the site will start straight away after the test events, before the construction begins again in 12 months’ time.
Tell us what you think. Was it the right decision to stage Olympics equestrian at Greenwich Park? Are you worried about damage to the park or disruption to the local area during the Games? Add your views below.