All the complaints--about cost, ticket availability, traffic hassles, and more--evaporated in an instant when Great Britain's Peter Charles and Vindicat brought it home in the team gold medal jump-off.
Their fault-free, under-time round secured the Olympic team jumping gold medal for Great Britain, the first for these Games' host country since 1952.
The largely British capacity crowd of 22,000 erupted with the biggest display of cheering yet at the Olympic equestrian stadium in Greenwich Park. The entire audience was a sea of madly waving Union Jacks, and the roar was so deafening that the announcer had to shout to be overheard.
Joining Charles on the gold-medal podium were teammates Ben Maher (Tripple X), Scott Brash (Hello Sanctos), and Nick Skelton (Big Star). Team GB secured the gold after a battle with the Netherlands (Jur Vrieling/Bubalu, Maikel van der Vleuten/Verdi, Marc Houtzager/Tamino, and Gerco Schroder/London), which had to content itself with silver.
Of the gold medal, Great Britain's Nick Skelton said, referring to his age: "It has taken me 54 years. It is unbelievable, and what a place to do it. I have got a wonderful horse, and it is a dream come true."
Skelton has been paired with Big Star, a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion, since the horse was five. "Our goal was to come here," Skelton said.
"This is the best day of my life," agreed Scott Brash. "The home crowd behind you--it can't get any better than that."
Skelton and his teammates all qualified for the individual jumping medal final, which takes place Wednesday. The top 35 riders advance to the individual final.
The other big story of this Nations Cup is the bronze-medal team. Saudi Arabia has never won an Olympic team jumping medal (its only other Olympic equestrian medal was an individual silver in Sydney 2000). According to team rider Kamal Bahamdan (Noblesse des Tess), the Saudi Arabian king established a fund for buying horses, and that has helped to fuel the nation's emergence as a player in international horse sport. Most of the riders now train in western Europe with internationally recognized jumper trainers.
Bahamdan was joined on the bronze-medal podium by teammates HRH Prince Abdullah al Saud (Davos), Ramzy al Duhami (Bayard van de Villa There), and Abdullah Waleed Sharbatly (Sultan).
Although horse sport has only about a 20-year history in Saudi Arabia, "We had this goal [of an Olympic medal] for such a long time," said al Duhami. "It is not easy for the Saudis. We worked all year to try to get the horses ready for the Olympics."
The only tense moment of the medalists press conference was when Sharbatly was asked to comment on a reporter's assertion that some Olympic competitors were unhappy that he had been allowed to take part in these Olympic Games. Sharbatly had been suspended from competition for eight months by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) after his mount Lobster tested positive for two banned substances at a February show. His suspension, which was supposed to have lasted through October 2012, was subsequently reduced to two months, thereby enabling him to take part in the Olympics.
"No comment," Sharbatly said.
In the team jumping competitions, it wasn't the Americans' best week. Team USA finished in a tie with Sweden for sixth place. Two riders, McLain Ward on Antares and Rich Fellers on Flexible, will advance to Wednesday's individual final. No rider was fault-free: Ward had eight jumping penalties, Beezie Madden on Via Volo four, Fellers eight, and Reed Kessler on Cylana twelve.
"I would have liked to turn in a clean round for my team," Kessler said afterward, "but I'm pretty happy to take a step back and realize that I'm eighteen years old and this is my first major championship. I'm happy to have three solid performances under a great deal of pressure. But I wish I could have brought home a medal, not just for the country but for Cylana."
Of his celebrated partner, the sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion Flexible, Fellers said: "He did feel a little more tired today. But I felt like he finished up great, and it will be nice to give him a day of rest, and we'll come back ready to go in the individual [final]."
Fellers wasn't yet sure what Flexible will do tomorrow--possibly just hand-walking or maybe some light walking and trotting under saddle. "It won't be a lot; I can guarantee you that," he said.