Olympic Equestrian City 2024: Would the horses choose Boston?

Boston, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles all made bids to host the 2024 Olympics. What was each offering equestrian sports?

Update: As we now know, Boston won the bid and will be the USA’s candidate city to host the 2024 Olympics. This story was written the day before the selection was announced, but includes some fun information that may not have been reported elsewhere.

Tomorrow (Thursday, January 8) could be the day that we find out which of four US cities will go forward to represent the United States’ bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Once selected, the US candidate city will compete against a roster of international cities on other continents for the honor of hosting the games. 

Or, as some factions in American cities would like you to believe, the horror of hosting the Games.

It will be almost three years before we find out which city will actually host the Games; the announcement is scheduled for September 15, 2017, in Lima, Peru.

Each American finalist city has its anti-Olympics faction, just as it has its supporters. Not everyone in the winning city will be happy on Thursday when the announcement is made–no matter which one wins.

But what about the horse sports? How do the four cities stack up?

Boston has been buzzing with the rumor that the eventing cross-country would be held in beautiful Franklin Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect of Central Park in New York. 

At almost 500 acres, is it big enough? Do the math: That’s 2.5 times the size of London’s Greenwich Park, which hosted the equestrian events at the London 2012 Olympics.

There are worse places to ride a horse than Boston’s Franklin Park, rumored to be the proposed site for the cross-country phase of eventing, should Boston win the 2024 bid. (Boston Public Library post card collection)

Boston’s Franklin Park has iconic backgrounds, urban wilds and the rolling terrain could make it ideal for cross-country. It is located in a part of the city that should be part of the Olympic effort. Once inside the gates, it has beautiful bones, old stone bridges and even a folly, so the Brits would feel right at home. I rode in Franklin Park in college because that is the part of the city where the stables were. The only horses there now are ridden by Park Rangers, or are pets at the zoo there. 

But wouldn’t we love to see the show jumping down the street in Fenway Park? And the dressage in Harvard Stadium? It just might happen.

The Boston area’s Essex County was once the home of the US Equestrian Team eventing training center, back in the Jack Le Goff era. Olympic riders like Karen Stives, Mike Plumb, Dorothy Morkis and many others call Massachusetts home. Karen O’Connor grew up here. Mitt and Ann Romney live here, too; they’d have almost ten years to find another Rafalca, the Team USA dressage horse Ann Romney owned in partnership. 

Paul Revere is putting his horse through his paces this week, as Boston campaigns to be the US candidate to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Did you see the way he morphed into an eventer in the video?

Boston’s equestrian talent isn’t just in the form of riders: Mitt Romney is on the Boston2024 committee and as former chair for the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, could play a key role here. Let’s not forget a key Boston native: Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Equestrian Sport Productions LLC and Wellington, Florida’s Winter Equestrian Festival, the premiere show jumping series in North America. 

Boston’s relatively cooler and less humid late summer weather would be kinder to the horses than Washington’s steamy heat. A fault with both Boston and Washington is that August and September are prime time for hurricanes, although few make it as far north as Boston.

Another nice thing about Boston is that everyone knows someone here, went to school here, grew up here or has a cousin/aunt/old roommate in the area. Reserve those guest rooms well in advance.

For the most part, these proposals are top secret. We know that each city has a budget of $4.5 billion, but how they plan to spend it varies radically. Boston is promoting a scaled-down version of the Olympics by not planning to build a huge new stadium or an Olympic Village. Instead, it will be what the press is calling the “university games”, with many of Boston’s college and university athletic facilities put to use.

And people will walk, ride bikes or take public transportation to the Games in Boston. Street cars will take you to Franklin Park tomorrow, if you want to go. You won’t need to remember where you parked your car because you won’t have a car. And the Games will be ten years from now–we might be over fossil fuel by then!

Speaking of people, they are Boston’s greatest and most unforgettable natural resource, no matter what the weather, the traffic or the problem is. 

And what about the other cities? There’s Washington, but their video stresses their famous people, not their athletes…and certainly not their horses.

In the tiniest print in some articles about Washington’s bid, you can find references to equestrian events being held at Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia. That’s about 40 miles west of Washington. It’s a wonderful facility and certainly looks the part, but mightn’t the horses just say “ho-hum” since they’ve been there and done that?

Could we possibly host the first hack-in Olympics? It would certainly be economical, given the number of top eventers who live in the suburban Washington area.

A criticism of the Washington proposal is that the events would be spread out in a 40-mile radius of the city, from Leesburg in the west to Annapolis, Maryland, for sailing events, in the east. Traffic, of course, is the first thing people think of when they think of Washington, but traffic is the bane of London’s existence, as well, and they did it!

There is the small problem of security and the chance that people in Washington might need to use the city for a government crisis, should one arise, during the Games. And yes, I do believe that the Republicans and Democrats would work together on the Games…as long as someone else is in charge of the budget!

The Bay Area of California is also spreading their plan for the Games out, geographically speaking. Their plans, according to press reports, locate the bulk of equestrian events not in San Francisco at all, but in the heart of Silicon Valley, outside Menlo Park at the 272-acre Woodside Horse Park.

Cornerstone Dressage runs the dressage shows at Woodside; the facility has four acres of arenas with artificial footing. Ian Stark was recently named course designer for the cross-country phase at the Event at Woodside. Ian is also course designer for the 2015 European Eventing Championships to be held at Scotland’s Blair Castle.

No problem there! Woodside coincidentally just launched a $2 million renovation fundraiser for show facility that just keeps getting better. There’s a certain caché to being in Silicon Valley, and surely people from all over the world are curious what it’s like in Cupertino or Palo Alto. So the Bay Area may have some extra appeal, and the equestrian events’ location could be a bonus rather than a handicap.

But another rumor from San Francisco is that they’d like to hold the cross-country phase of the eventing in beautiful Golden Gate Park, with the bridge in the background. The terrain can be a little steep, not unlike Greenwich Park, but it sounds magical.

The weather in San Francisco would be fine for the horses. In terms of natural disasters, if you have to worry about hurricanes on the east coast, you need to think about earthquakes and wildfires on the west coast.

Finally, we come to the last candidate for host city. Los Angeles has hosted the Olympics twice before. The city is chomping at the bit to do it again and most pundits have declared it a shoe-in. That said, Los Angeles is the one city that put the equestrian events on its map already. 

They have identified three major sites in LA, but the equestrian events would be at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, east of the city. There’s no word on where the eventing cross-country would be held. In 1984, it was held on the golf course at the then-new Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California, quite a distance from Los Angeles.

The 1984 Olympics in LA were wonderful–who can forget Reiner Klimke’s dressage?–but the United States has so many great cities, shouldn’t we share the experience?

As you can tell, I lean toward Boston. What about you? Use the comment form to leave a message or visit my Facebook page to tell me why you think Boston is or isn’t the best choice. But don’t ask to sleep on my couch if you don’t think Boston’s a great candidate…

• • • • • • 

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