Greetings from London town. So Karen has nipped off on hols, but foolishly left her log-in details here with me in Blighty. Ergo, I’m taking the liberty of blogging in her absence.
She also accidentally left Harriet (remember – the rubber horse head). Well I say “left”, I may in fact have borrowed Hazza and not returned her to the stables in time for Karen’s flight. Slapped hoof. Anyway, H is serving the purpose of protecting my anonymity, for the time being. And I now go out dressed like this every Friday night…
I’m a British equestrian journalist, who befriended Karen on various reporting jaunt around the globe. I’m here to tell you what it’s been like in London since she left.
We have mourned her leaving, of course. And we have mourned even more ardently the passing of the Olympic Games. We watched the closing ceremony – where the Spice Girls were re-united to remind us what they really, really wanted – and endured such pre-recorded wailing while pondering: “Where’s Rowan Atkinson when you need him?”
When it came to the climax, and our mayor passing on the torch, we screamed at our TV sets: “Run, Boris, run! Take the torch and complete some random act of buffoonery, for which we know and love you so well.” We didn’t want to share. Not with Rio, and not with anyone. All those cynical Londoners who bemoaned the whole Olympic experience (mostly the cost, to be fair) suddenly wanted it to stick around – like that time your partner’s great aunt came to stay, and you thought she’d be an utter nightmare, but it turned out she’s a total hoot. The whole city, nay, the whole country has gone all optimistic and upbeat in light of recent events. This isn’t terribly British.
We horse-friendly Brits in particular are still in the midst of some post-coital-esque euphoric haze (can I get away with saying that on here?) in the aftermath of all those equestrian medals. We are not given to winning medals in dressage, nor showjumping for that matter. We’ll hang out in said haze for as long as possible. As long as it takes for Wonderhorses Valegro and Uthopia to go to new homes, I suspect. There’s hope they may be bought for their current riders; there are many more rumors that they have been sold abroad already; and there’s a certain amount of dispute as to who even owns one of them anyway – on which more next time…
But the equestrian element of the games didn’t really end with Valegro’s gold medal. No, we re-girthed our loins a few days later following that most excellent, harmonious piece of horsemanship, to witness its polar opposite – the pentathlon.
Now I don’t want to cast aspersions on All pentathlon riders, but we no longer insult jockeys here in Britain by saying they ride like they learned yesterday, we now say “he rides like a pentathlete”. As British darling of television presenting Clare Balding put it: just when you think they’re about to go clear, they fall off.
There were exceptions at the Games – the Brits were good (I’m not bias) for example. But they were fortunate to come through to the sport via Pony Club triathlon. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest it’s easier to teach yourself to run in retrospect than to showjump a 1m20 track on an unknown horse…
There’s a lot of hullabaloo over here about lowering the fences further in the Grand National. First, please, can we lower the fences in the pentathlon? It’s not nice, watching riders going round hanging on to the horse’s back teeth. They’ve borrowed these animals; their owners must be mortified. One poor gelding, Oscar, went so far as to go over backwards with his temporary jockey. Some argued the horses were the problem, I’d argue that, as an Olympian, you ought to be able to ride near enough any horse you’re given. Not necessarily to a clear round, but into a soft, even contact at least.
When I last interviewed a pentathlete (one who certainly could ride), she said you had to admire the bravery of those lacking experience. To go in there and face that decent track is a bit like expecting me to summersault off a 10m diving board alongside Tom Daly. So a little respect. But it’s car-crash TV, and it doesn’t do the image of the sport any favors.
What we saw in London wasn’t as bad as what has gone before at major championships. But it was nothing to be proud of. They were unhappy images with which to leave the public after what had been a fantastic event as far as equestrianism was concerned. Sure, there were furors at these Games. But if I was equestrianism’s one-woman PR machine I’d have been pretty satisfied (and I hope this doesn’t sound too crass, but) – no blood, no drugs, and no fatalities. Halcyon Days.
And of course the Games aren’t really over yet. No. Take down your flag and a Paralympian will quite rightly take you to task. Us Londoners are far more excited about the Paralympics kicking off next weekend than we were about the Olympics. Partly because cynicism was still in vogue pre-Olympics, whereas now you get a slap for not being Miss Positivity about Everything, and partly because if you thought we’d found inspirational heroes in the past three weeks, we’re about to realize we ain’t seen nothing yet. As the TV station covering the Paralympics for the next fortnight has pointed out on posters all over the city: Thanks, Olympics, for the warm-up, Love Paralympics. More on that, and the rest of the fall out post-games, next time.
Thank you very much for having me, here, on Karen’s blog. If there’s anything you want a Brit’s perspective on while I’m imposter-ing, please let me know in the comments. Or, hit me up on Twitter (@Sarah_Jenks). Damn, let the cat out of the bag. Or the head out of the rubber horse, as it were…