To avoid the eye strain of reading, watch this video of my newest partner in blogging crime, Kenneth Brannagh’s successor to the Shakespearean throne, SS, reading the post below.
Now that the eventing is behind us, we can get back to having a ‘normal’ Olympic equestrian competition. The presence of Zara Phillips on the GB Eventing Team resulted in the kind of media frenzy that keeps me from ever wanting to be a tabloid news reporter. The elbowing and foot-trodding in the mixed zone after each of Zara’s rides yesterday was truly epic, and I can guarantee that the vast majority of microphone wielding barbarians knew absolutely nothing about the sport going on around them.
At the team press conference, Zara was up there with two of eventing’s living legends, Mary King and William Fox-Pitt – but all eyes and questions were on Zara. The first questioner asked her about the experience of having her royal-studded family in the stands watching – the stadium cameras made frequent passes over the questionably engaged faces of William, Kate, Harry, Anne (come on Mummy, crack a smile. Your daughter just won a medal) and Camilla over the past few days, to properly milk the royal connection. Zara took a giant leap skyward in my esteem when she responded to the question with: “the families of all my team mates are here too, you know.” The press conference moderator – a bit of a bossy thing but very efficient – then said “if we could keep the questions focused on the sport, that would be fantastic.” Ah, the Brits. Always polite while still getting their points across.
The Zara-mania was so pervasive that by the time the gold medalist Germans got their turn at the mikes the press conference had completely fizzled out. Newspaper people and royal blogger fanatics ran off in all directions, clutching their hard won royal tidbits for their stories. Good riddance I say!
German teams have won so many gold medals since I started covering major championships a decade ago that when the German Anthem played yesterday I found myself humming along. That’s how many times I’ve heard it. But you can’t grudge the Teutons their many, many golden moments. They earned their team and individual medals, as they always do, with extraordinary horsemanship. Watching Sandra Auffarth ride Opgun Louvo (whatever that means) around the show jumping course was like watching show jumping ballet. Going from a good gallop on a straight stretch before a tight turn to the next fence, she did no more than sit up a bit and the horse came back to a canter from which he might have done a pirouette; a perfectly balanced turn, three strides and a perfect distance to the fence. The kind of riding we all dream of being able to execute. And it goes without saying that cute-as-a-button Michael Jung is the greatest eventing rider in the world right now. I thought I was going to have to hunt down a German journalist (no shortage of those in the press room) to verify if it’s a record he’s set by being the first rider to be the reigning World, European and Olympic champion at the same time. But it proved unnecessary – every report I’ve read including Eurodressage’s mentions that remarkable fact.
The past four days were not the North Americans’ finest moment, as I’m sure you are well aware. I think ‘indifferent’ best sums up the American performances, though Karen O’C is to be commended for her ninth placed finish with a relatively new partner, Mr. Medicott. At least they got round. Disaster and disappointment were Canada’s domain. The other journalists around me in the mixed zone laughed when I thanked Jessie Phoenix for finishing yesterday, but I really meant it. She was the only bright light for Canada. Bring on the dressage horses, and let’s wipe the slate clean!
The lingering impression of the London Three Day experience will be of an extraordinarily beautiful and almost unbelievably urban setting. Just imagine: a three or four star course (the jury is still out on that one) in the middle of one of the world’s greatest cities. The stodgy dog walkers of Greenwich may hate us for invading their green space this summer, but from this side of the fence I have to say the fact that for once Equestrian – including the cross country – is in the thick of the Games instead of relegated to some far-off satellite site has been nothing short of stupendous. Was the footing slippery out there on the course? You bet it was. No one, not even course designer Sue Benson, is denying it. But there is always something, isn’t there?
If you hunger for a sense of what the atmosphere is like here in Greenwich, just take a look at this photo of the Greenwich Tavern taken yesterday after the medal ceremonies. The pub is the first thing you encounter after exiting the accredited gate, but if crowds are not your thing there are more pubs per square foot within just the first block than anywhere on earth.
Today is the only day off from equestrian competition between now and the Dressage freestyles on August 9th. I plan to move as slowly as possible for the next 12 hours, and take in a little culture in the form of the National Gallery. I was tempted to join magazine publisher Jennifer Anstey in an odyssey to the races at Goodwood, where an apparently legendary horse called Frankel is running today, but the prospect of three hours commuting on trains defeated that idea for me.
All the horses passed the Dressage jog yesterday, though Painted Black was held after Spain’s Morgan Barbancon presented him in a slightly lethargic manner. While Painted waited in the holding pen, Laura B’s giant Alf set him alight when he passed by snorting and flag-tail passaging. The little stallion nearly got away from Morgan, but the shoulder strain was worth it. The jury gave Painted an unreserved thumbs’ up as he flew up and down the lane on re-presentation. Me, I can’t wait for the dressage competition to get started. I think those of us lucky enough to be here are about to witness Olympic dressage history.