We begin today's post, on the final day of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, with a photograph:
Now, if that doesn't say it all about sportsmanship, excellence, and the power of the human spirit to overcome the obstacles life throws at you, I don't know what does.
As I've mentioned previously, this WEG is the first time that able-bodied equestrians and those with physical disabilities have competed at the same international championships. Para-equestrians, including America's own Rebecca Hart (who finished fourteenth in yesterday's Grade II Freestyle), have commented on the excitement of riding alongside the likes of jumping individual gold medalist Phillipe Le Jeune of Belgium or dressage individual gold medalist Edward Gal. The experience must be one of empowerment and validation.
As we prepare for the closing ceremonies, it's time to start looking back at these past sixteen days and recounting what made the WEG special -- or funny or frustrating. Here are a few of my own mental snapshots:
- Journalists may be impartial when they report, but behind the scenes they're rooting for their favorites just like everyone else. Taking a break from trekking the eventing cross-country course last Saturday, I was watching the action on the TV monitors in the press tent surrounded by a trio of Italian TV reporters, who clutched their unlit cigarettes like St. Christopher's medals and shouted "Bellissima!" whenever one of the Italian riders was clear over an obstacle.
- Le Jeune, after dismounting Canadian jumping bronze medalist Eric Lamaze's horse, Hickstead (the final four in the jumping each had to ride a round on one another's horses), rushed over to his own mount, Vigo d'Arsouilles, and hugged the 17.2-hand chestnut stallion's neck fiercely. The spontaneous gesture proved that, in the end, there's not much difference between an international gold medalist and every little kid who hugs a pony.
- The jumper riders shared with one another tips on handling their horses. I'm sure part of it was for their own sakes, but in how many sports do you see competitors giving one another advice?
- The WEG volunteers were unfailingly helpful and cheerful. I don't know if I could have been so friendly and welcoming, standing out in the cold or the rain or late at night, my only job to shepherd a straggly crew of weary journalists onto a shuttle bus.
- The bus drivers themselves were a friendly bunch, although I could have done without the movies blaring at full volume over the mini-screens at all hours.
- I will not miss the dearth of fresh fruit and vegetables in the on-site and local cuisine. I will also not miss being housed in a town whose idea of good food is a Cracker Barrel and a Waffle House.
- Marring the generally welcoming atmosphere was the British reporter who, confronted with eventing gold medalist Michael Jung of Germany's decision to use an interpreter at the press conferences, sniffed that these were English-speaking events. I thought that attitude was found only in the good old "This is America; speak English" USA. Guess not. It almost makes me sorry that the 2012 Olympics will be in London. Let Mr. Superior try that attitude in Normandy at the 2014 WEG. I guarantee it won't get him very far.
- Golf carts, golf carts, and more golf carts, shuttling competitors and officials up and down the lanes at an alarming pace. WEG chief veterinary advisor Dr. Kent Allen quipped during the competition that the major health crisis of these Games was more likely to be a golf cart-spectator collision than an equine incident. Having narrowly avoided several golf carts and a free-range bicycle myself, I quite agree with him.
- US dressage rider and individual bronze medalist Steffen Peters wore a helmet for the awards ceremony after the Grand Prix Freestyle. He said afterward that it was in honor of 2008 Olympic teammate Courtney King-Dye, who suffered a severe head injury after a helmetless fall in March. No dressage competitor shed the traditional top hat in favor of a helmet in the ring, but Peters' gesture did not go unnoticed.
Photo credit: Kit Houghton/FEI