What's Underneath the London Olympics Footing Story? Truckloads of International Equestrian Problem-Solving - The Horse Owner's Resource

What's Underneath the London Olympics Footing Story? Truckloads of International Equestrian Problem-Solving

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In Hong Kong in 2008, a more straightforward process went into creating an ideal arena surface, as explained in this video from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which was charged with designing the arena surface. But Hong Kong was not without its ?unique challenges: the surface had to suit the competition horses while withstanding the environmental forces, such as the Hong Kong rainy season (summer). The London Olympics faced the same problems, but with a big "x" factor: the arena is on a platform, not on the ground itself.

How do you like your footing?

At the Olympic Test Event in July at London's Greenwich Park, rider criticisms of the arena footing emerged as a problem that would have to be carefully and completely addressed in advance of the "real" Olympics this summer. Since then, getting the footing right has been a problem-solving exercise for organizers and contractors.

Now, with 199 days remaining until the opening ceremonies of the Games, the FEI reports that it gave a final sign-off on the footing that will be used for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Equestrian Events at Greenwich Park, following successful tests during the week before Christmas.

But if you're envisioning Dickensian test riders cantering and passage-ing around the iconic Greenwich Park arena scene at Christmastime, think again. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) conducted the pre-Christmas footing tests at a remote site near Preston in the north of England. The mix for the footing is now composed of non-waxed sand, felt and fibre.

That's right--they simply built the arena 200 hundred miles away.

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

The Olympic equestrian arena in London's Greenwich Park was built for the test event in early July 2011, and then dismantled. Testing for an improved footing mix to sit atop the platform required a simulation in northern England during December. This photo was taken during a 2011 construction phase.

The Olympic equestrian arena in London's Greenwich Park was built for the test event in early July 2011, and then dismantled. Testing for an improved footing mix to sit atop the platform required a simulation in northern England during December. This photo was taken during a 2011 construction phase.

According to the FEI, Leopoldo Palacios (technical advisor to LOCOG), Frank Rothenberger (FEI Technical Delegate), Bart Poels (footing expert)?and John Roche (FEI Director Jumping)?attended the test on 21 December. The technical experts produced detailed reports that were submitted to the FEI Executive Board for further evaluation before the 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 contract to supply and install the footing was awarded to the British company?Andrews Bowen Ltd. (David Andrews and Simon Bowen) for the test event and the summer London Olympics 2012. According to the company's website, the original Olympic formulation was based on the company's waxed-sand?Prowax product, atop a special drainage system layer called Equiflow that would not only prevent water from draining onto the hallowed ground of the park but also "harvest" it for re-use.

Another aspect of the Olympic arena footing is that the plan calls for it to be sold at the end of the Games.

The Greenwich Park arena footing will be used for the modern pentathlon events, Paralympic dressage, and the dressage and show jumping arena events. In addition to the main arena, a 50 x 100 meter training arena was specified to be equipped with the same footing.

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But in the meantime, if you're like me, you're envisioning a mile-long convoy of dump trucks transporting the precious footing from one end of England to the other, possibly with police car and military helicopter security escorts. At some point in the next nine months or so, the convoy will pull into Greenwich Park. Everyone who as a child ever played in a sandbox will smile at the prospect of that scene.

With luck, the organizers, officials, chefs-d'equipe, veterinarians, farriers, riders and--most importantly--horses, will smile too.

[Flickr photo of the Greenwich Park construction via KhE ?; truck route sign by Richard Drdul]

Thanks to the FEI for a press release detailing the approval of the footing.