There are subtle differences between the types of fans you get at different sports. Your basic Football fan is very different to your club Rugby fan. Your County Cricket fan is not your Rugby League type (with some exceptions “up north”) and you would rarely get a plastic Tennis fan declaring their undying love for Beach Volleyball. Of course there are some cross overs – a fan following England abroad at any sport seems to act the same way (find pub, drink beer, chant “Engerland, Engerland, Engerland”, fall asleep in sun, wake up with sunburn, repeat whole process).
But one sport that is a breed apart (quite literally) is Equestrian. You could argue (and I do, often) that it is not an Olympic sport as it does not involve much human endurance or effort. You could be the best horse rider in the world, but if your horse doesn’t feel up for it then you are as good as the worst rider on a great horse. Obviously, some will argue “yes but what about Formula 1” – well indeed, but a) that’s not in the Olympics (yet) and b) the skill of the driver is actually all important – hence why great drivers win races in different cars.
But in our search to really get under the skin of our Olympics I was willing to try just about anything. So when in our daily search for available events tickets popped up for Equestrian I hesitated for just a few seconds before buying the tickets. The Fuller girls were ecstatic. This, along with gymnastics and mens diving (for some strange reason), were their “blue ribbon” events. And of course it was our closest Olympic venue, just a 20 minute bus ride away.
I had followed progress in the competition in the days leading up to the event. I knew a few names (Zara Phillips obviously, but also Nick Skelton) and was as pleased as any other Britain when we won a medal in the team event. I still didn’t know what to expect when we headed for Greenwich Park early on Saturday morning.
What was obvious was the weather may be a real issue. It had been lashing it down overnight and dawn broke with a few more heavy showers. The venue was 100% open air and the organisers had said people could use umbrellas. Thanks for that – it is bad enough having to avoid being blinded walking down the street by them let alone having one blocking my view of the sport.
But by the time we passed effortlessly through security at the gate of the Maritime Museum the clouds were breaking up and sunshine was trying to make an appearance. The venue itself was certainly controversial. A group of over 12,000 local residents had petitioned for the park not to be used, claiming that it would permanently cause damage to the area. Indeed, some very old trees needed to be removed to make way for the arena and it was obvious that their protests would fall on deaf ears after the LOGOC were unmoved.
A few years prior to the start of the Games, there had been statements made by organisers that local schoolchildren would benefit from the hosting of the Games, and indeed would be able to witness events first hand. Originally, the ambitious idea was that every child in the Olympic boroughs would get to see an event. That changed to one in ten a year or so later, and coming into the Games, all of the schools were waiting to hear what the “allocation” would be. Littlest Fuller is schooled in the London Borough of Greenwich, which was not only hosting the Equestrian, but also the Shooting at Woolwich (sport shooting, not normal Friday night outside of Weatherspoons shooting). Not one ticket was allocated as far as we know to her school.
We took our seats high up in the stand, next to an Australian couple. Now I know a fair few Australians and to a man they are decent people who like a beer, love their sport and have a laugh. These two were so far up their own arse it was unbelievable. She was quite good-looking in a very posh totty way. All of her clothes and accessories appeared to be expensive labels (or just good fakes?) – Hermes scarf over her Ralph Lauren jumper and Gucci top, her eyes hidden behind RayBans. But then Jodphurs? Really? Was this like when as a little kid you went to football and took your boots “just in case” one of the professionals got injured?
We made our way to our seats along the row and they seemed annoyed that they would have to move so we could pass. It was still 20 minutes before the event started so we were hardly interrupting them. Every time someone else sat down around them she would tut and shake her head. It seemed that she wanted to have complete silence before the event.
Saturday 4th August 2012 – Equestrian Jumping
The event we were seeing was the Jumping event. I wasn’t entirely sure what the difference between the three events was, but CMF told me it was like Miss World and this bit would be them doing the pole dancing part. Now I was interested. The course of about a dozen fences had been laid out and the horses/riders had an 82 second time to go around the course. Every fence they knocked down resulted in a 4 penalty, and every 4 seconds over the 82 second time limit would give them a 1 point penalty. 75 riders would compete in this round, with the top 60 going through to the next round, and the combined marks for each country determining the starting positions for the team event. Let battle commence!
Whilst the vista from our seats was impressive across to Canary Wharf, the best things about the arena was the actual course. Each jump had been designed to reflect scenes from England. There was an Old Bailey jump, and English Country Garden, Nelson’s Column (not actually jumping over the column though as that could make your eyes water, and finally a Stonehenge double jump. The first few riders made light work of the course, including the legendary Nick Skelton, who all jumped clear. It wasn’t until the Saudia Arabian rider went 5th that we saw the first fence go down.
The most amusing part of the first set of riders was the Australian Matt Williams. As soon as he was announced our friends next to us sat upright, holding aloft their Australian flag. Thirty seconds later they sat down deflated as Williams became the first rider to be eliminated after his horse, Heartbreaker, refused the same fence twice. Shame.
Overall thirty two of the seventy five riders went clear and within the 82 seconds. The cut off point for qualification for the second round was 8 penalty points which saw three of Team GB through to the next round – the one eliminated was Peter Charles on Vindicat, who ironically would win the Gold medal for us in the team jumping on the same horse two days later.
Nearly four hours of jumping was good value for money, but I craved some proper sport. Fortunately the session ended in time for me to hot foot it home, jump in the TBIR taxi and head on down to Sittingbourne for their game versus Aveley. Would I go and see Equestrian again? Probably not, but then again this was the Olympics where anything went.
More photos from the event can be found here.
Tomorrow – A trip to the Boxing to see history being made.