The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games isn't until tonight, but the eventing competition officially got under way at Greenwich Park this morning with the first horse inspection (aka the jog or the trot-up).
Seventy-four horses representing 22 nations were presented to the Olympic veterinary commission, which includes foreign veterinary delegate Kent Allen, DVM, of the U.S. (Read my interview with Dr. Allen here.)
Of the field, 71 horses were accepted as fit to compete at first presentation. Four horses were sent to the holding box for reinspection: Cadiz/Aurelien Kahn (France), Asih/Alexander Peternell (South Africa), Kilrodan Abbott/Peter Barry (Canada), and Barbara/Serguei Fofanoff (Brazil). All were accepted upon reinspection.
About three hours after the conclusion of the veterinary inspection, the Brazilian eventing team announced that its horse Kenny, ridden by Renan Santos Guerreiro, had been withdrawn, in a statement calling the horse "not 100% fit."
About an hour after the jog ended, we readied our cameras and our walking shoes for a thankfully rain-free tour of the Olympic eventing cross-country course, led by course designer Sue Benson. She led us around the 5,760-meter course (about 3.6 miles), which consists of 28 obstacles with a total of 39 jumping efforts. The optimum time is ten minutes, three seconds--although Benson said she doubts too many riders will make the optimum time.
"The terrain did a lot of the work for me," said Benson of Greenwich Park's hilly locale (it is, after all, the site of a world-famous observatory). This is not rolling terrain; these hills are steep. Let's just say that I don't think I need to get on an elliptical trainer or an inclined treadmill tonight.
The cross-country obstacles are some of the most decorative and fanciful I've ever seen. Many are tips of the hat to the gardens, leisure pastimes, and other entertainment enjoyed by park-goers for generations. Several were inspired by the observatory and its role in stargazing. The first fence, the Diamond Jubilee Hedge, honors the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the British throne.
The course makes use of the Olympic stadium itself. Horses and riders will enter the stadium to jump fences 15 and 16, both of which are hedges outfitted as the Tower of London.
One of the most technical questions on course is fence 24ab, the Rose Garden. Set next to an actual huge rose garden in the park, this hedge-and-faux-roses jump is a right-hand corner jump that just begs for a runout.
"I think it's a big question for the back end of the course," Benson said.
The course concludes with fence 28, the stunning Olympic Horses obstacle: a huge horseshoe flanked by two equally impressive horse statues made entirely from recycled horseshoes. All are stunning pieces of art in their own right. If LOCOG wants to raise some extra money, I'll bet an art collector would pay top dollar for these gorgeous pieces.
The course turf itself is in top shape--lush and green, with excellent drainage. Benson's team has been mowing, fertilizing, aerating, and watering the course path for more than a year in order to transform the usually wild grassland into a luxurious green carpet. All of Greenwich Park is situated on a natural bed of gravel, which affords excellent drainage, Benson said. Officials have had to be so protective of the turf that we journalists were instructed to stay to the sides of the galloping lanes as much as possible.
Cross-country day is Monday, July 30. But first: two days of eventing dressage, which commence tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. London time. Boyd Martin and Barbotiere of the U.S. are the first to go. Karen O'Connor and Mr. Medicott ride at 12:08 p.m. Tiana Coudray and Ringwood Magister go at 3:18.
Continuing on Sunday, Will Coleman and Twizzel ride their dressage test at 11:20 a.m. Last to go for the U.S. will be Phillip Dutton on Mystery Whisper at 2:38 p.m.