Every Olympics has amazing stories to tell but I am here to report that one of the most amazing stories about the London 2012 Olympics will surely be the transformation of the lovely urban Greenwich Park into an equally-urban horse sports venue. On this rolling site on a sharp curve of the Thames River across the river from London, horses will compete in dressage, eventing, showjumping, para dressage and modern pentathalon. The park is not unlike New York's Central Park: it's a green oasis in an urban jungle 100 miles wide.
But what if you had to build this horse sport venue without digging up the ground? That was the assignment. This historic park will allegedly not only survive untouched, it will be ultimately improved by having hosted these events.
And for the first time, horses will compete on a raised arena--a 5000 square-meter dressage and showjumping platform was built so that as little of the royal grass as possible would be disturbed and so that the slightly sloping terrain could be a level field of play. How sturdy is it?
The arena platform has been designed to minimize impact and organizers say it is quick to install, lightweight, reusable and has been fitted using adjustable legs which means that no holes have had to be dug in the ground.
Will it tremble under the mighty hoof stomps of warmbloods like Totilas and Parzival and Fuego? We won't find that out until next summer, but tomorrow we'll find out what happens when the dressage phase of the first Olympic test event gets under way. Two days later, the show jumping will use the raised arena again. The footing will be the usual mix so the horses might not notice. But when that first horse lands over the last jump, a lot of sighs of relief will be heard, I'm sure.
Not only the arena is raised above ground--the stables are, as well. The horses will be led up and down ramps to and from their stalls.
Not one road apple of manure will touch the royal ground, either. Outside each stall in the temporary stables is a trash barrel; manure and bedding waste will go directly from the stall to the barrel, which can then be wheeled to larger containers on trucks that will haul them away.
The Olympic Test Event: What's Going On?
The Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC **) is now underway in London (GBR) this afternoon as part of the first test event in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics. Over the next three days, the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) will test key aspects of the Greenwich Park logistics and operations in preparation for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, including the field of play, timing and scoring technology, venue installation and workforce.
A total of 40 riders from 23 countries will take part in the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational, which offers the normal grading points for an international CIC**, and which will involve Dressage tomorrow (Monday 4 July), Cross-Country on Tuesday and two rounds of Jumping on Wednesday in order to reflect the Olympic format.
There will also be demonstrations of the other Olympic equestrian disciplines of Dressage and Jumping, along with Para-Dressage to further test the facilities.
About Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park, which dates back to 1433, offers spectacular views across London and is the British capital's oldest enclosed Royal Park.? The World Heritage Site is home to many historic buildings including the Royal Observatory, the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum.? London 2012 chairman, Sebastian Coe, has promised to treat the Park with "respect and care" in the build-up to next year's Olympic Games. LOCOG is working hard to ensure that the Park is restored to its original state and that disruption to the local community is kept to a minimum.
The use of Greenwich Park is also in keeping with Lord Coe's 2005 pledge that Britain would put sport and the athletes back at the heart of the Olympic Games. Now the equestrian venue is right back in the Olympic hub, ready for equestrian sport to celebrate its 100-year anniversary as part of the Olympic movement in 2012.
The Cross-Country course for this week's event will follow some of the route planned for the Olympic track, but the west side of the Park will remain open to the public.
About the Competitors
Many of the leading riders from the sport of eventing are in the line-up this week, including British superstar William Fox-Pitt who should be feeling right at home as London was the city of his birth back in 1969 and Germany's Michael Jung, individual gold medalist at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? in Kentucky.
Joining Fox-Pitt for Great Britain will be? will be Piggy French, who finished second at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials this year, and former Rolex Grand Slam champion and double Olympic silver medalist, Pippa Funnell.
Sam Griffiths and Clayton Fredericks will represent Australia and Alex Hua Tian will line out for China.
North Carolina's Will Faudree is there for the United States, along with two US riders based in England, Logan Rawlings and Julian Stiller. A group of US riders will also be on hand as official observers.
But the man many people want to see is 2011 Badminton champion Mark Todd from New Zealand who was voted "Event Rider of the 20th Century" by the FEI and who has made a sensational comeback to the sport over the last three years.? His win at Badminton this spring was a vintage performance from the man who took back-to-back individual gold at the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988.? He will be joined by fellow-Kiwi Andrew Nicholson.
They're already talking the finer points of strategizing for 2012. Dr. David Marlin tells us that the park has an undulating topography; the?height difference between the lower and the upper parts of the park is around 50 meters. Compare that to the relatively flat course at Luhmuhlen in Germany last month, also the site of the European championships this summer. We're already hearing that the course and summer heat may favor lighter Thoroughbred types than heavier warmbloods. Although the differences between the breeds (or, in this case, types) are subtle, there are differences to how they react to the high heat and humidity and to conditioning.
Lots to learn at this test event: stay tuned!
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See more of Keith Furner's beautiful landscape photography on Flickr.com.