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Riders catch London's Olympic buzz

July 5, 2011

by Louise Parkes

Greenwich Park is alive with excitement for the first London Olympic Equestrian test event, and dressage leader, Britain's Piggy French, has joined in on the buzz of the occasion.

» Kiwis impressed with London Olympic venue
» Todd, Nicholson arrive at Greenwich in style
» French takes lead in eventing test

Great Britain's Piggy French and DHI Topper W head the field after the dressage at the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) in London. © Kit Houghton/FEI

French, riding DHI Topper W, holds the lead after Monday's dressage phase of the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) from a starting field of 39 runners. The 30-year-old Briton, who took individual silver at the 2009 FEI European Eventing Championships, produced a great score of 34.70 which leaves her with a six-point advantage over Australia's Clayton Fredericks (Bendigo) in second place, while Germany's world champion Michael Jung (River of Joy) lies third going into tomorrow's cross-country phase which begins at 11 am local time.

Greenwich Park is alive with excitement, and the arena, built on a specially-designed platform in order to provide a level surface on this hilly site, has come in for significant praise. "Greenwich is such a unique location and there's a huge buzz about it - it seems a very horse-friendly place!" French said after the dressage phase.

Fredericks was delighted with how well his horse handled the atmosphere, especially since Bendigo may be his mount for London 2012.

Jung, individual gold medallist at last year's World Equestrian Games, is intrigued by the cross-country terrain. "It's very interesting, a big part of the course goes up and down and there are many jumps but only five minutes to ride them. We will need to quickly find a rhythm - it's great to get the chance to compete here before next year," he said.

A huge amount of work has been invested in ensuring the footing on the cross-country is good. "I hacked on the outside of the track today and the difference between the course and the public side is quite significant," French explained, while Fredericks said, "the area where the action is happening is very good. I met some of the groundsmen when I was walking the course today and they are taking great pride in providing us with good sport".

Just getting the horses into the heart of London might have seemed an onerous task, but thanks to the professionalism of LOCOG's official horse transport provider, Peden Bloodstock, it has worked seamlessly.

Lorries from all over Britain and Europe arrived at a staging post four miles away, the horses and equipment were unloaded and the equipment transferred onto a commercial vehicle, security tests were conducted on the vehicles and then the horses were re-loaded and arrived quickly at the stabling area. Peden's Managing Director, Martin Atock, said: "It worked very well, but to be honest getting the horses here has been no different to getting them to any other event."

Cross-Country course designer Sue Benson is in upbeat mood. "I've had a lot of favourable comments from the riders, but I must emphasise that I have a great team behind me, London Eventing. They inspire me and I believe I inspire them!" she said.

The London weather is warm - it was 25 degrees centigrade at lunchtime today - but Benson is pleased because that will provide another test.

"It may be hot here next year and we will learn everything we can from our experiences this time around," she said.

Asked about the greatest challenge she has faced during her preparations she said "obviously there have been the sensitivities about the Park itself but in terms of the sport the hills have been my major concern - however I can't do anything about them, they are there and that is it, so it's been about finding the best ground to use."

Meanwhile, local business is already enjoying an early Olympic boost.

Paul Cunningham, owner of the Biscuit Ceramic Cafe on Nelson Road in Greenwich which is just a few short steps from the Park's Queen Mary's Gate, said: "I acknowledge the inconvenience caused to some people by having this Olympic equestrian event in the Park - I live on the other side of the Park and I couldn't cycle through it today because of the Test Event.

"But the inconvenience is nothing compared to the benefits for our businesses and for tourism. We are used to welcoming people here to Greenwich - it is the second most-visited site in London - and we know that the warmer the welcome the more likely it is that visitors will return, or tell their friends that this is a great place to come. The Olympic Games in Greenwich is a really positive thing," he said.

Some of the 2000 supports for the arena.
© Kit Houghton/FEI
What is being tested: Riders will use this event to understand the logistics and get to know the Park. LOCOG is testing the field of play, the stabling and warm up areas and how they relate to each other, managing the arrivals and departures processes, and the arrangements for athletes, trainers, grooms, accommodation, venue staff, technology and transport.

Arena: The arena in use for this week's event is about three-quarters the size of the one that will be in use in 2012. It is 85 metres by 75 metres while for next year's event it will be 100m by 80m. The arena floor or 'decking' is a plywood platform supported by a steel and aluminium frame. Not only is this quick to install, lightweight and reusable it can also be installed without any digging taking place. That is because the adjustable 'legs' for the platform can be placed directly onto the ground, although some sand may be used to ensure the decking is level. Because of the ecological and archaeological sensitivities of the Park, the usual cut and fill process, which is often used when building for equestrian events, will not be used.

Spectator numbers: There are 2000 tickets for the arena for each day of the test event for the dressage/jumping and an additional 5000 for Wednesday's cross country. More than 3500 tickets have been donated to Greenwich council for distribution to residents, schools and colleges.

Cross-country course: The length of the cross-country for the test event is about 3000 metres, roughly half the length of the Olympic course which will be 5700 to 6000 metres and about a 10-minute track. Much of the Olympic course on the east side of the Park will be used for the test event which equates to about 40-45% of the Olympic course. The test event is a two star event so the fences are smaller and less testing. The Olympic event is a four star event. The cross-country phase of next year's Olympic event was one of the first sports to sell out when tickets went on sale.

What the riders said:

Karin Donckers (BEL) on her test on Lamicell Unique: "It's a challenging environment for a seven-year-old, so I am happy with her behaviour. She coped well, as it was quite crowded around the arena and there were lots of clicking cameras. It feels like a championship already. The arena feels very nice to ride on. The Cross Country is a nice two-star test. The hills will tell us a little bit about how it will ride next year. I think it is good to ride this test event with a young horse. A three or four-star horse is more experienced and can give it a different feel."

Renan Guerreiro (BRA) on his test on the 19-year-old New Zealand-bred Rongotai, the oldest horse at the event and the former ride of Kiwi Olympian Blyth Tait: "He was really good. I need to do some work on my flying changes, but it is one of the best dressage tests I've done. They have done a really good job on the arena, it's a great surface."

Jules Stiller (USA) on the Greenwich Park venue: "I was quite sceptical, but they have done a great job on it. It's amazing to ride Cross Country and look down on the city."

William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on Greenwich Park and the custom-designed platform: "Wow, it has an Olympic feel already and this is just a test event. The surface is lovely; with a bounce in it, it's so much kinder and more forgiving on the horses."

Jayne Doherty (IRL): "It was amazing to see all the flags at the stables, and the atmosphere is incredible - I think we all under-estimated how amazing it was going to be. Just arriving in the horse box and driving through the centre of London was amazing. The course looks beautiful - really well manicured."



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