Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Quick Update this morning

The Quickest of updates this morning; I don't think I've ever seen it so tight at a major championships. Our five athletes rode their hearts out yesterday, they were fantastic; we couldn't have asked any more of them! The most nervous time for me is the build up when I fret and wonder if there's any more I could have done. Now it's over to the athletes. They're all experienced, we just have to wish them luck...

Monday, 30 July 2012

William Fox Pitt Comments on his cross country round

World number one, William Fox-Pitt, produced a gallant cross country clear – the fifth of the day for Brits - on his horse Lionheart, nursing home his tired mount to rack up 9 time penalties to end on a score of 53.30

Commenting on his round he said:
I wasn’t expecting him to be so tired at the end, he’s always completed easily within the time and I don’t think he can have felt 100%. I don’t want to make any excuses and you never do know but it’s very unlike him - I was just very glad that he went on jumping and that he got home. Hopefully we won’t need his score tomorrow and we can put some pressure on the Germans so they make some mistakes.

When he came up the hill at the back of the course I expected him to gallop on and he just didn’t really take me, it was quite hard work and that was very unlike him. He’s a very athletic, forward horse and I’ve never had to kick him in my life. That was quite a surprise, naturally its disappointing but the girls have gone fantastically today and we’re still in there. Once you’re not getting the time it’s about getting home safely incase anything happens overnight.

This competition is far from over. At an Olympic Games, people are always under pressure, they’re doing their very best - when people are competing things don’t always go to plan. It’s been a fantastic day for the sport. To be here in London with that crowd has been unbelievable, that’s an experience that none of us have had before and ever will have again.

Kristina Cook comments on her cross country round

Kristina Cook and Miners Frolic flew round the twisty Greenwich course to be the fourth Brit home clear for the team and the third to cruise inside the time. The pair finish on their dressage score of 42.0.

It feels amazing. Coming here we knew that this was going to be a tough course to ride around. It’s very twisty, the ground is firm, it has fantastic grass cover on it but it’s slippy. We knew we had to go fast around the corners; I don’t necessarily like going that fast, but once a year I’ll do it.

Miners Frolic is fantastic, he was bred to race and I’m very lucky to ride such a class horse.

The others gave me a lot to live up to. Zara was giving me hell – she calls me granny but I’m clearly not! We’ve had a lot of fun, it’s a really strong team and it’s fantastic for me going in this position with William coming up behind us.

Tomorrow is another day; they’re five good jumpers on a good day. The Olympic experience is always more than anything else. We’re trying our best to come back with gold. He’s four years older, I know that he can cope it with it so we’ll be giving it everything.

Mary King comments on her cross country round

Best of the Brits after dressage, six time Olympian, Mary King rode Imperial Cavalier clear round the cross country, clocking up just two time faults to go into the lead on 42.10.

The course has been causing some problems and Mary herself was held on course after a fall from the rider in front of her.

Commenting on her round Mary said:

I'm thrilled to only have two time penalties. I was lucky, I'd jumped the difficult water, the steepest of the hills was about to come up so it was a good place for a breather. We could both get our puff back a bit and then the trick was to pick up the speed of the gallop again and get going.

He powered up the hills, they weren't a problem at all but he was quite difficult to turn. Archie isn't totally suited to this type of course but we felt he's so talented we had to bring him here. I knew he would be hard to steer as he loves to gallop. The Crowd in a way made him run a bit quicker so he wasn't always paying attention to me.

Nicola Wilson on her cross country round

GB trailblazer Nicola Wilson rode a fantastic clear cross country round, returning comfortably inside the time to finish on her dressage score of 51.7 with Opposition Buzz.

Commenting on her round she said;

He's just unreal, what a fantastic horse. This is his favourite phase by far, when he's allowed to go cross country it's like all his birthdays have come at once. I'm absolutely privileged to ride such a fantastic horse at the Olympics. It really is a dream come true, I had such a perfect ride all the way round and I'm so grateful.

The support from the crowd was just deafening, unreal I couldn't even hear my watch beeping for my minute markers. It didn't bother him at all though; I think he enjoyed all those people there to see him. Amazing!

Day Fifteen - Change afoot

There is change afoot......strewth, someone commented to me, that horse is carrying far too much condition...how is it going to gallop up and down the Greenwich hills? Yes, the dressage horses are in town so we now have full stables. Most of the dressage horses arrived on Saturday but we sent our kit in on Saturday and the horses arrived yesterday. It is quite an operation to get kit in to the stables....when we have to extract the eventers and bring in the jumping horses, it is going to be challenging. Andy Thomas has been busy mending those of us that unloaded the dressage trunks..... I am sure they are due to leave here on 10th August not 10th September.....

Well whoever wrote the script for the second day of dressage qualifies for an Oscar nomination for imagination. It is a strict rule that anyone accredited at the Olympics is banned from being involved in any betting.....but if I had a sneak preview of the aforementioned script, I would certainly have handed in my accreditation placed a £10 bet and made myself a millionaire. Do not get me wrong, those that head the rankings rode like true Olympians and deserve to be where they are. As if there were not enough challenges in producing a dressage test that scores over 70%, the weather decided it wanted in on the Greenwich action (anyone who is anyone is popping in to this gig - definitely the place to be seen).

Tina Cooks' explanation as to how she coped with the torrential rain, thunder, roof to a Judges' Box flapping was the moment of the day......something along the lines of..."it rains a lot on the South Downs and I don't have an indoor school". What Tina demonstrated was the perfect example of "coping with the unexpected": prior to the Games we worked hard on aspects such as this.... This included work we funded with the assistance of the Lottery funding (UK Sport) and a very useful video produced by the BOA that tracked what happened in the diving in Athens when someone jumped in to the pool wearing a tutu!! Essentially all the favourites choked and performed poorly and the Greeks came from nowhere and won the Gold.

I think I mentioned previously (I am getting a little senile and so the memory is going....) that if you do not like being judged..don't do dressage. It would be easy to make comments about some of the judging but what's the point? The Ground Jury (the judges) give their opinions based on their professional judgement.....as in all walks of life, not all will agree with everyone's opinions!

We were highly delighted with the riders and horse which were either achieving personal bests or were very close in terms of their performance. It is difficult to make scoring comparisons between Championships......the leader here is on 38, at the Europeans last year leader was on 31 / 32. Also the dressage Test that was ridden here is different to say the Europeans or Badminton. We still have a small aversion to flying changes.... With all the professional support we have in place, clearly I have missed a trick...and need to learn from the Japanese....next time we will have a Vicar on the team...work it out... we are placed slightly higher than we thought we might be so all in all a good day at the office.

All will depend on how the Cross Country rides and how tight the time is.........

How to make a farrier happy......Mr Haydn Price had no coat hangars...Mr Haydn Price now has coat hangars. Happy Mr Welsh farrier.

Haydn's wardrobe

One of the main challenges for a Team Leader.....? Stopping vets spreading their kit around the stable office. Solution 1) Buy the a big trunk on wheels then 2) put a big cable and padlock around it then 3) do not give His Lordship McEwen a chair so he has to sit on the other vet trunks, thus preventing him spreading kit.

Tomorrow is cross country day and all are busy......fingers crossed

Before in the stables

After in the stables!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

GB Eventing Dressage Coach, Tracie Robinson taming and now releasing the beast!

GB Eventing Dressage Coach, Tracie Robinson has been the lady of the moment for the GB Eventing team, charged with the responsibility of nurturing each team member to give their best in the dressage arena over the last couple of days.

Tracie commented:

I’m thrilled with them all. Opposition Buzz’s test yesterday was a real confidence booster, Mary’s test was amazing and that gave such an overnight feeling of positivity to the team. Zara rode beautifully today, it was an unfortunate misunderstanding between the two of them but other than that they were fantastic. Miners Frolic coped incredibly well with the most horrific weather of the day, plus the Perspex incident and then with William’s horse literally that would be the best test it could ever have produced at this moment in time.

I think that gives us an overall bounce and buoyancy in the team and great confidence to release the beast in the cross country tomorrow. Focussed and fearless, that’s always been the motto. We’re definitely in touch and the team are really hungry for it, this really gives us something to aim for.

William Fox-Pitt comments on his dressage test with Lionheart

A personal best dressage score from William Fox-Pitt on his young horse Lionheart was enough to keep the British team in third place going into the Equestrian eventing cross country phase tomorrow. The world number one scored 44.10 penalties to leave GB 7.9 penalties shy of Germany who lead and 4.9 behind Australia in second.

Commenting on his test William said.

"At 10 yrs old Lion is a lot younger than some of the other company, this is his first championship and he’s not a great big moving warmblood horse, so hopefully he’s going to come into his own the next two days and that’s why’s he’s here. He was never selected for this phase; he’s produced a PB today, Tracie Robinson [eventing dressage coach] has been working really hard with us and he’s going so much better. He’s in the toughest company in the world and not far off the lead so we’re certainly hoping things go our way tomorrow and it’s not going to be a dressage competition.

All the horses have gone very well, certainly Yogi is thrilled, they’ve all done a good a test as we could have hoped and you can’t expect for more. You can wish the judges had given a few more marks - particularly to Nicola who I think was very harshly marked but that’s the game, that’s part of the deal. I hope that the next couple of days are going to be demanding and I hope we’re going to answer the questions.

I rode the [cross country course] at the test event, it was reasonably tough then, this one is twice as long and it’s going to be a be a big, testing track. There could be a cumulative effect - with the horses going very fast towards the end you’ve got to hope that they stay sharp and with a couple of very steep hills, we don’t know how tight the time will ride. That’s what three day eventing is all about though. If they all skip round clear inside the time I’ll be very disappointed.

There are a lot of very good horses here; it’s very exciting that the marks are close to get there. Let’s hope we can go really well tomorrow.

Tina Cook comments on her dressage with Miners Frolic

Fourth to ride for the Brits, Kristina Cook and Miner’s Frolic were foot perfect in their dressage test to score 42.0 penalties, despite having to ride through the worst downpour of the day that included thunder and lightning around the stands at Greenwich Park.

A philosophical Kristina commented;

I’m used to riding him in the rain; unfortunately, I don’t have an arena at home and I’ve ridden in some very wet days on the South Downs. The horse is used to the wind and the rain coming across - that side of it he was great with - but the noises as the judges roof blew up and down when he was doing his extended trot, I really hoped that he wasn’t going to spook. The crowd, bless them, they were getting wet and were all muttering an chattering but I’m just really pleased and proud of the horse that he kept a lid on it and kept really focussed and tried his best. I’m really pleased from that point of view, we would have loved to have the sun shining down on us but that’s England for you!

 42 I’m pleased with, I would have loved it to be a couple of marks better but we didn’t make any mistakes. He has a really fabulous brain that wants to please, he seems to cope with these atmospheres which is quite surprising as he’s quite a sensitive horse but he wants to try his best and he did by ignoring everything else that was going on around him. It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t perfect but I’m pleased with what he did. I’ve been eventing for 20 odd years and you do get this thrown at you. We can’t stop the competition and say, actually, I don’t want to do it now. At an Olympic Games you hope you’re not going to have thunder and lightning and rain thrown at you but I have and you have to deal with it. 

It’s an Olympic Games, the course is going to be very testing, very exciting for everybody. A lot of it is going to come down to time and we just hope it doesn’t rain too much as it will be very slippery round those corners, the horses do have studs in their shoes but you may have to steady and therefore time faults will stack up. The time is gettable but less so if we get rain as you may have to be cautious but it’s going to be fast and furious.

Zara Phillips comments on he dressage with High Kingdom

Zara Phillips showed great promise with the 10 year old High Kingdom to record a dressage score of 46.10 penalties. An expensive mistake in the first canter flying change and a slight anticipation in the walk to canter were the only blips in an otherwise confident test.
"It’s incredible, an amazing feeling to be part of the Olympics and to ride for your country and just be here, the crowd were amazing. I’m lucky he [High Kingdom] doesn’t really get too wound up by the atmosphere though; it actually lifted him a bit.

I’m pleased; it was a big test for him. Disappointing about that one [flying] change as his are usually good but that was only inexperience. He’s getting stronger all the time and coped with all the crowd and he’s only getting better.
We’re looking forward to tomorrow. High Kingdom is a good jumper, cross country is our stronger phase. The course looks amazing, it’s going to be really hard work, the time is going to be so quick, there’s not going to be any let ups,  you’ve just got to keep riding and get from start to finish as fast as you can. I think he wants to get out there now; he’s a bit bored of dressage!"

Day Fourteen - Oh yes, we had some horses dancing today

Apologies for the last post being a little late....typical first day of competition. I always rise thinking, ok, there will be some glitches but I only have a couple of jobs to do so will not be too busy.... Like heck! Why is it that with all the planning and preparation....despite having Sophie and Sarah....... I still seem to fill my day. 2035 hrs.....just sat down for dinner / emails. Where did the day go? However, spare a thought for the Venue management.... Tim Hadaway's team finished the Team Leaders meeting at 2005 hrs and still had a myriad of work to do......they will be ready for a holiday after this one.

So things did creak a little at Greenwich.... not back of house but on the public side: however, it is worth remembering that this is a brand new venue and today it opened for the first time to the public...for 20,000 spectators. Quite a challenge when you introduce the myriad of rules and regulations that accompany a Games... add to that the 80+ functional areas that make up a Games Organising Committee ...and there will always be difficulties. Tonight we had a talk from an IOC representative about Rule 50 - this is the Rule that governs National emblems and manufacturers' marks...confused.com .......pass the Rioja.

Oh yes, we had some horses dancing today.....and they strutted their funky thing. Nicola was first to go for the Brits.... Dodi (Opposition Buzz) is not a natural dressage supremo but under the watchful eye of a true dressage supremo (Tracie Robinson) Nicola and Dodi have been working very hard at circles and bumps. All that hard work paid off and the pair of them delivered a clear round...I.e. No serious mistakes. I have head that they were harshly marked...but here is a thing; if you do not like being judged, do not do a judged sport! 51.7 pen is a damn good result. Next to go for the Brits was Mary King and Imperial Cavalier. Archie has demonstrated an ability to let his exuberance loose upon his army of fans.....that would not have been ideal in a stadium of 20,000 fans...But Mary is at her 6th Olympic Games for good reason....she is a consummate professional who knows how to deliver when it is the time to deliver......40.9 pen and 3rd going in to the second day. Much will change tomorrow but we are happy with day 1.

Apparently one of eventing's most accomplished riders also has a squirrel problem at their Home Yard.....perhaps a post Games holiday is taking shape.....Nutkins beware.

On a more serious note...the perhaps unexpected stars of these Games are the soldiers, sailors and airman that are manning the "mag and bag" and providing the security. H5T were manning the gate in to the stables but it is now manned by soldiers (phew). So many people from other Nations have commented to me how helpful, polite, cheerful and damned professional the soldiers are that are on duty at Greenwich - they are right at the heart of the reason that the all are enjoying being at Greenwich. They deserve a medal........ Will that medal take the form of additional leave or a financial bonus........?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Day Thirteen - the Business end of Proceedings

The pageantry of the opening ceremony is over, time to get down to the business end and what we’re all really here for... can we now please become a firework free zone until the 12 August (closing ceremony)?!  I must admit that I was asleep for the 2nd half of the ceremony.....dreaming of medals...maybe...

The First Horse Inspection has been completed.....ok, so the pulse rate jumped up the scale at one point. The Horse Inspection is to ensure all horses are fit to compete.

Let’s hope the Eventers managed to get some sleep while Team GB’s Equestrian division was represented by our Jumping and Dressage contingent of Scott Brash, Peter Charles, Ben Maher and Richard Davison. Watching at home on the box I didn’t spot them but with 540 athletes making up Team GB and a camera man with a Tom Daley obsession it’s not so surprising. 

The Jumpers had a fantastic time and I think the atmosphere and certainly the welcome they received as they walked from the Village to the Venue, will have helped prepare them for the Competition and given them a taste of what is to come.  There is no doubt in my mind that to succeed at the Olympics an athlete needs to soak up the atmosphere but then move through the wow factor and settle in to a performance focused bubble.  

Tomorrow is Eventing Dressage day and Nicola Wilson and Mary King will trot down the centre line for Team GB (at 11.20 and 14.30).  Before the first Olympic horse competes, it will be a very big day for World Class Development rider Emily Llewellyn who has been invited to be the test rider for this phase of the competition. This is a big honour and a great experience for a young rider looking ahead at the road to Rio. She is a super talented rider and it’s great to see our up and coming riders being invited to learn from the biggest occasion of them all.

Also opening tomorrow will be the International Teams' Tent...often known as Rosemary's Tent (after Rosemary Barlow, who has run theses facilities at many Olympics, Worlds and Europeans).  To be exact......it is not a tent!  During the planning phase, this facility has moved around the Park more than the squirrels.   

the ITT 'tent'

ITT tent

Squirrels in the park
As an aside.......the squirrels in this Park are too tame...that is wrong...at home they would know their place.  We have daily "orders" that are produced and circulated by Sophie Thomas:  These give everyone a breakdown of what is happening the next day, as well as keeping us up to speed with what is happening across the wider Team GB.  Included is a " quote of the day" and our daily lessons on Cockney rhyming slang.  Maybe we need an "oi, Mr & Mrs Nutkin......KNOW your place...."

Back to the ITT..... This is designed to be a facility For the "team" that surround the athletes...owners, family, close friends; it is a place to meet up and relax.  The National Maritime Museum have kindly provided the home for the ITT.....so it falls outside the cartilage of the Venue but can be accessed from the Venue...kinda contradictory statement but believe me!

As competition is about to start so there will be a peak in pressure / stress (for me) as we pass through the inevitable teething problems of Day 1 of competition.......and then it really is over to the stars...the athletes and the horses.  It is going to be close competition, nail biting moments and sport at its very very best.

Mary King comments on her dressage with Imperial Cavalier

Mary King rode a super, bold test with the switched on Imperial Cavalier, scoring 9’s for the highlights to go into second place individually behind Germany’s Dirk Schrade on 40.9 pen, their best score at 4* level. On entering the arena Mary held her fingers to her lips to signal quiet to the crowds who responded with uncharacteristic quiet; you could have heard a pin drop in the main arena.

Afterwards the stadium erupted for both British riders and both were visibly touched by the experience.

Mary King commented:

“Absolutely fantastic, I’m not usually tearful but coming in here with all the home crowd is emotional. I knew if they cheered that Imperial Cavalier would have exploded and we would have found it hard to ride a test after that, so although they were all behind me they were very well behaved.”

“People know he is a horse with tremendous enthusiasm and energy and I need all the help I can get from the crowds. He made a couple of errors when the tension got to him a little especially the last flying change but I was really pleased with his shoulder in, medium trot and half passes. This was close to his best score at this level and to do it in this atmosphere is amazing. I’m chuffed to bits.”

“He’s a very talented horse, beautiful looking, which helps a lot. The crowds seem to love him and so do I!”

Commenting on the cross country phase to come:

“It’s fantastically built with wonderful ground. It’s going to be a great challenge of horsemanship; a test of speed and agility. The fences aren’t hugely built but the time will be difficult – the speed will make the mistakes.”

Nicola Wilson comments on her dressage with Opposition Buzz

Nicola Wilson rode out first for the Brits on day one of the eventing dressage, filling her traditional pathfinder role. The pair produced a smooth, accurate test without mistakes to finish on a score of 51.70; perhaps fairly harshly marked. The crowd whooped and cheered when Nicola entered the arena and the pair stayed remarkably cool despite the rowdy reception.

 Commenting on her test Nicola said;

"It was quite emotional entering the main arena; it’s a fantastic setting, not that I had time to look at the view! So many cheers went up from the crowd and so I raised one hand to wave at the crowd to let Dodi [Opposition Buzz] know it was OK rather than let him get tense. It seemed to work as he stayed with me and really tried. We produced the best test we could have done; I’m very very proud and pleased with him. We’ve been very fortunate to have support through UK Sport Lottery Funding to improve what would be his weakest phase and it’s really paid off. I’m delighted with how he tried for me today.”

“I’m very very excited about the cross country; Dodi is a super horse to ride in this phase and it’s an amazing course, so different and that really makes it special. It’s beautifully presented and extremely twisty and hilly, the time looks like it will be tight to get. It’s definitely an Olympic course!”

Friday, 27 July 2012

Day Twelve - The cross country is revealed

Oh boy, the world has gone mad. As I type I am sitting in a hotel with a pair of headphones on, watching Team GB V Senegal and wearing jeans. There will be some of my former military colleagues choking on their claret as they read this as the devil cloth (jeans) and watching soccer during dinner were most definitely banned from any Officers' Mess that I had any influence over. In my defence...it is the Olympics and that = out of this world sport.

So yes, prior to taking up the reins as Performance Director I served for 17 years: Royal Regiment of Artillery - I am a very lucky person..... Commanding the King's Troop RHA was a privilege and an honour..... I am lucky because I feel that same sense of pride (most of the time - sometimes I want to hit them over the head with a cricket bat and shout read what you have been sent and stop changing your minds!!) working with the team of people I do now. The King's Troop is well represented at Greenwich: Brendan Murray, Mark Fisher, Brian Elliot, Mark Houghton and  a gaggle of Saddlers amongst others.

I seem to have digressed - I suppose you want an update on what is happening with the ponies et al?

Full on training day... Dressage supremo (Tracie Robinson) reports that they looked pretty damn good. Training was followed by the Press Conference......We have spent many hours looking at the impact of competing at home; one of the areas identified was the increased expectation from the Press. We therefore worked on a plan that tried to give the Press access early in the season - this was done by encouraging the riders to hold "open days" on their Yards and we have had various Press days at training and competitions. We have also agreed to do a Press Conference for each discipline post arrival but prior to competition......today was the turn of eventing. The equestrian media worked hard to try and keep the focus on sport but there were a clutch of... I will try to be polite... tittle tattle gossip merchants and some of their questions asked of a certain rider were..to say the least...boring.....barely 1* to equate to equestrian competition grading – should they be required to achieve minimum eligibility standards in the same way the athletes have to?!  Hey ho, that is the Games.

The Cross Country opened for inspection today. No, I make no judgement as to the difficulty..the terrain introduces a dimension that is impossible to predict. What I can say is that it is beautifully presented...expertly built and artistically stunning. Some photos.... 

Walking the course
One of the fences overlooking Canary Wharf

And the squirrels....
We cross the Start line tomorrow.... I hope the riders get a full night’s sleep tonight and are not disturbed by firework rehearsals,  the wrong side of midnight (as happened last night)......but then I guess it is the Games and coping with all the distractions is part of the road to medals.  But did they really need to explode fireworks or could they have used dummy ones......

Thursday, 26 July 2012

I Give Up - What Day Is It?!

I am loosing track of how long I have been here and am now focused on how long it is until the referees whistle goes for the start of the match. admin seems endless and sometimes I wish I could find the person that invented email and ask them to have a rethink....it haunts me, hunts me and hampers me on a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute basis....arrggghhhh.

The Draw has been kind to us; GBR runs 17th of 22 Nations with SWE and NZL the only Teams after us....and they are very strong Teams!

Training day today. There are a wide choice of training areas available, most of which are situated between the stables and the Main Arena. Greenwich Park is on a slope (yes, I am fully aware there is a socking big hill....but the northerly end where the arena is, is also on a slope) and the Arena and many of the training arenas are built on platforms....a massive engineering feat that is most impressive. Some training areas are allocated to Nations on a rotational basis, others are open to all. There is also an all weather gallop that runs along the side of the main road through the Venue. Some pictures will give you a better feeling:

Mary King rides Imperial Cavalier between the training arenas and back to the stables

Nicola Wilson hacks Opposition Buzz down the canter track

one of the platformed training areas

William Fox-Pitt leads Lionheart back from a workout with groom Jackie

Tina Cook exercises Miners Frolic under the watchful eye of Yogi Breisner

Training arenas built into the sloping site

The complex construction under the platform
As we have been looking a little at training perhaps now is a good time to remind all of the importance of the support we get from Lottery funding through UK Sport..... is the Lottery funding that has supported all the pre Games training camps, the tickets we have provided for riders / owners, the additional clothing, the veterinary support, physiotherapy, tack research; coaches travelling to riders' Yards; allowed some to stay in private accommodation; supported competition costs.....of course we are very grateful to the owners without whom there would be no Team but I think the Lottery funding has helped us prepare professionally and offer the riders / horses every support possible now we are at the Games. KEEP BUYING YOUR LOTTERY TICKETS!!!!! 

Challenge of the day....preparing for the Opening Ceremony;

 Last LOCOG Bus for the Village departs Greenwich at 1520 hrs

 GBR allocated training time in one of the important training areas (i.e. one that will be used as part of the competition warm up) – finishes 1715 hrs (some Nations do not finish until 1915 hrs....)

Opening Ceremony does not finish until after midnight.......I understand how important the Opening Ceremony is...but it does slightly dominate all else and is certainly causing me headaches.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Day Ten 1/2 - Horses in; start line in view

Apologies for the delay....early training time and I have been writing the Blog before breakfast – yes, oh cynical ones, I do write it myself....well until we get very busy.  Hence, we are now on Day 10 ½!

Tuesday – arrival day for the first of our horses; I suppose this was the moment that it really hit home – London 2012 is upon us, the wait is over – if they cannot dance, jump and gallop by now they are not going to learn!  The horses all met up at Mark Perry’s Yard (Dartford area) and travelled to Greenwich (via the ESF) on Mark’s horsebox. Mark is very much part of the Team and always drive the Para-Equestrian Dressage team.

The horses arrived to be greeted by a crowd of volunteers and were unloaded quickly and efficiently under the watchful eyes of Pedens. Escorted to their new homes, they all looked very well and interested in their new surroundings. Their arrival was recorded for posterity by the internationally renowned and friend of Team GB, Kit Houghton and also by a cameraman....the latter making the error of trying to follow the horses in to the Stable Block (Barn in US speak) – eviction followed.

As soon as the horses were settled, the grooms unpacked their kit and started turning the two tack stables in to “home from home”. Grooms must be some of the hardest working people at the Games and give their all so that their charges can perform to their very best...I always like to think that the nucleus of equestrian success is a trilogy of rider / horse / groom.  It is one of the major benefits of Greenwich that the grooms will be living in the De Vere hotel at Greenwich, which sits within the perimeter of the Venue. When I spoke to grooms from a number of Nations this morning (Wednesday) they were very very appreciative of their accommodation and the facilities within the “Grooms’ Village”. It certainly throws the gauntlet down for 2014 and especially Rio 2016!

The riders were transported by the BOA from Mark Perry’s directly to the Olympic Village where they moved in to their rooms and visited the Dining Hall before heading to Greenwich on the “bubble to bubble” transport. Now, “bubble to bubble” is not some new age multi dimensional transportation system but the description of a transport route / method that leaves from within one secure venue and drops off within another secure venue – hence avoiding the need for the occupants to go through the airport style security that one has to go through every time you enter an Olympic Veneue.

The jigsaw is coming together.  We now have eventing horses, eventing grooms, eventing riders, eventing staff and eventing kit.....all together in one place.....RESULT.  The horses were ridden and lightly worked prior to time being called on a busy day.  Busy.....even the farrier had to don his apron to carry out some minor running repairs (worry not....the farrier was not running).

Team farrier, Brendan
Riders returned to the Village....one rider then called Yogi Breisner to ask if Yogi could collect said riders camera that had been left in the stables....with room keys attached to said camera – the roles of a Team Manager / Chef d’Equipe are many and varied. 

Yogi and I  had an hour to kill before the chefs d’Equipe meeting so took a stroll around Greenwich.  I must be careful not to air my personal feelings about what has happened around security; 17 years in the Army means I have fairly strong views about soldiers being used to cover other peoples’ failings (assuming that is what happened...) and if there are soldiers that have missed out on leave, I hope that they are suitably recompensed; we owe our Armed forces a great deal at the moment.  So back to walking around Greenwich...do I feel secure...too right...look what we have moored off Greenwich;

HMS Ocean
Wednesday, GBR were allocated an early slot in the Arena (Field of Play in Olympic speak)......and what a Field of Play it is...the atmosphere is going  to be electric. 
Am now back in our office catching up on some admin....the sun is still shining!

View from one of the stands overlooking the London skyline

The office....

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Day Nine - Logistics, logistics, logistics

Change is afoot....walking back to our accommodation last night, we were greeted by the sight of a fleet of lorries dropping red and white barriers off around Greenwich; there are now one way systems in place thus allowing the pavements to be widened to ensure that spectators can have a safe walk to the Venue. This has caused some traffic problems but it seems to have settled very quickly (photo taken at 0830 hrs). There is no parking so it is public transport....

Greenwich roads
It would be fair to say that the “blood pressure” of the Greenwich venue rose a little today!  The Equipment Staging Facility (ESF)opened for business and thus the first horses and kit arrived.  We had taken the decision to send in the Eventing equipment today with the horses arriving tomorrow. We visited the ESF and saw the Swedish team arriving – all handled most efficiently. All kit was security screened before being transported to the Venue and then on in to the stables. 

Our kit arrived in the afternoon and once the pallets (feed, forage and trunks were all packed on pallets by the grooms to make for easier moving) were delivered to the stables an army of volunteers arrived to help unload it....what would have taken well over an hour was completed in 20 minutes; thank you, thank you. All is now packed away and the stables ready for the arrival of the equine superstars.

British kit arrives....

....the unloading operation
It would be entirely possible to identify some areas that creaked as they accelerated up to operational speed.  Yes, there were areas that a.m. were in need of attention but most of these had been fully sorted by p.m.  For those of us that are regularly at Championships / Games well before competition starts, it is entirely normal for areas to have issues – it is the speed and manner that they are dealt with that demonstrates the competence of the Organising Committee; what is also vital is that the welfare of the horse is never impacted on. The stables are spot on in Greenwich and the arrivals procedure for the horses was as smooth and efficient as any of us could have wanted.

The stables decked out in Team GB bunting
The manipulators (physiotherapists – human & equine) arrived this evening....just in time to miss the unloading the kit although I think Andy Thomas may have some clients for his plinth following the excursions. You can even get Team GB branded support tape (physios just love applying tape) – I need some of that!  We questioned Vicky Spalding as to who was looking after her kids while she was in London.....I am glad our logistics plan appears a little more robust...so if there are any Spalding offsprings not sure where they are supposed to be and when...ring your Dad.

Horses arrive tomorrow.....and we hope, some riders...fingers crossed.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Day Eight - Has it really been that long?

A date with destiny...0800 hours 22nd July; the London 2012 Greenwich Equestrian Venue opened to the Teams. Consequently we were there at 0748 hours...just to make sure! We were greeted by smiling members of the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (yes I will comment sometime) who looked at our accreditation and had to double check we were allowed in; green light given and we were in - they were most welcoming!
Our Royal welcome at St.Mary's Gate, Greenwich
Okay there are still some last minute finishing touches needed.....but wow wow wow the venue looks stunning. Greeted by many familiar faces we exchanged handshakes whilst we waited for the stables to be unlocked (not military but H5T...work it out).

The aim of today was to get Sarah Armstrong’s lorry unpacked and start setting up the stables. Mr Efficient Henry Bullen had already moved the horsebox down to the stables so we were out of the starting blocks quicker than a bolting Bolt. All hands to the pumps to get the horsebox unloaded (apparently the new trolley or flatbed to give it the title it would have had at the King’s Troop) is called Trevor....why everything has to have a name is beyond me but that is the world I work in! Sarah Armstrong and Brendan Murray (this will be his 6th Olympic Games) continued to set up the stables for most of the day.

Unloading 'Sarah's lorry'
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, Sophie Thomas set up the office / meeting room and awaited the arrival of the newest member of the White Van Man club...Georgina Harland (yes, she of Modern Pentathlon medal fame in Athens). Georgie is our Sports Engagement Manager (SEM) at the BOA and is the conduit through whom I have all communication with the BOA. Georgie was delivering our “home from home” pressies from the BOA....toothbrushes, sun cream, shower gel, Union flag throw, Team GB mug....a great deal of work goes in to making everyone feel comfortable.
Definition of ironic....man watering grass in Great Britain...in July 2012. However, there is a reason; this was turf that had been recently laid to ensure all looked spick and span and that the Park remains in good condition. Apparently this, “lay and play” turf needs watering to help it take as soon as possible.

At the other end of the scale....we were asked to don blue plastic overshoes to enter Devonport House...to keep everything as clean as possible prior to the arrival of the grooms.
Will sporting very fetching blue shoe protectors - heading into Devonport House, the 5* Grooms accomodation requires clean shoes!
So a good day.....apart from the Parking Fine; we had some kit to unload at a private address and had been lent what we were assured was a guest Resident’s Pass...only problem was.......it was not “in date” until 27th July.... budget down by £65!
The day concluded with the first Team Leaders’ Meeting; Team Leader is Olympic talk for what we would call a Chef de Mission at a World Equestrian Games – i.e. me for GBR. There is a British Chef de Mission for all sports across Team GB and that is Andy Hunt from the BOA. Technically there is no such term as Chef d’Equipe at the Games, although, being equestrian, we continue to refer to Team Managers (Yogi Breisner / Richard Waygood / Rob Hoekstra) as Chefs d’Equipe...which of cause slightly confuses the non-equestrians!
A great touch by LOCOG – a glass of something after the meeting so everyone could have a good chin-wag. Horses (not GBR) start arriving tomorrow.
Getting sorted in the stables....
View from outside the stables
Platformed training arena
The essentials......
Platform support system - all of the stabling and training arenas are built on platforms to protect the Park
Looking over the training arenas
Ramp up to the training arenas

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Day Seven – 10, 9 8, Go For Main Ignition

I have my own stamps...Royal Mail stamps...how cool (see...I am modern) is that? There are so many great touches that LOCOG have brought to these Games; being able to have your photo on stamps is just one. It is things like this that make the Games and especially the Village special but also introduces distractions that have a real danger of impacting on performance. The athletes that stand on the Podium will feed off the Olympic “spirit” but will, at the same time, maintain a focus on delivering their very best performances on the Field of Play. I wonder sometimes how, as one moves further from the Field of Play, the concentric circles impact more on performance whilst having less understanding of the science of performance; in simple terms...what is the impact of the politics in sport on the performance of sport?
My 'cool' personalised stamps
 So back to being a Tour Guide today. The fickle hand of fate was kind and everyone arrived on time, in the right place and parked without damaging the Land Rovers...the later is important...overflow pipes have suffered in the past.

The main Dining Hall is becoming busier, with more food serving “stations” opening and hence, more choice opening up. Also the “grab and go” food stalls around the Village are also now open for business......no, you red blooded males...not that sort of “grab & go”......but I so hear you.......Ladies’ Hockey is in town.

View from the eventing athlete's apartment over the Park

The Tour progressed around the Village, following a well trodden route but a new option was available today and that was a trip in to the main Olympic Park...and it was time well spent; the photos speak volumes.

walking towards the Main Stadium

the Velodrome from the river bridge

The Basketball stadium from another river bridge - note the raft of fireworks ready for the opening ceremony

The Velodrome from one of the pedestrian walkways through the landscaped park

Tomorrow the Equestrian venue opens; the moment has arrived. Am I nervous..? Do Bears poop in the woods...yes, I am nervous... but I do not have time to be nervous. Tomorrow we unload all the kit, set the stables up, prepare for the arrival of the equine stars. Tomorrow it starts. By 1700 hrs on 9th August all the equestrian medals will have been decided.... 

You want my prediction? Gee...I hate that question.... Well here we go...the Nations that win the medals will be made up of athletes and staff that can leave the politics at home, ignore the negative innuendos that circle equestrian sport, can soak up the positives of the Games whilst avoiding getting sucked into the plethora of distractions.... they will be the very best that retain the ability to demonstrate they are the best. These will be the closest equestrian competitions we have seen at a major championships / Games and I believe that the difference between medals and no medals will be tiny....those that can retain the mental strength to win will be the ones that leave with medals around their neck.

As Sherlock Holmes said (sort of)....the games are afoot.....

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Day Six - Hickstead and Home

I have just arrived back in London....kinda home now. I was going to stay another night near Hickstead and enjoy the post Nations Cup hospitality: A couple of reasons (photos from my hotel room below – sink plug and air duct) which dampened my ardour but also the Torch will be going through Greenwich early tomorrow....and I would like to be there!

Reasons for not staying another night
So Nations Cup day at Hickstead.....I think I said the French and Germans looked strong and they were...finishing 2nd and 3rd but it was the Irish that really “pulled it out the bag” landing their first win of the season and pulling themselves up from last in the League to 7th.

For the Brits it was a day of 4 faults....nothing jumped badly it was just one of those days when not everything went “quite to plan”. Tina Fletcher and Hello Sailor jumped an excellent clear in the first round but joined the team of 4s in the second....Tina is travelling reserve for the Games so this was the perfect demonstration that they are ready to step up to the plate if required. It must be one of the most difficult tasks being a 1st reserve; you want to be a team player and support your fellow riders.....but is there a niggling feeling lurking at the back of your mind that whispers..maybe, just maybe? Tina is fulfilling her role as travelling reserve with great aplomb.

So it is as close as it can be in the League. Well Germany have won and France are safe....but the rest of us head to Dublin needing a good result. Why is it important the observant ones ask! Yes, this is likely to be the last year of the current format for the Top Level Nations Cup League (8 teams competing at 8 shows) – there are many ideas floating around but it is not impossible that there will be some sort of series / league that draws on the top 6 of this year’s League....and being able to choose Teams to compete at 5* Nations Cup shows is vital for the development of the sport in GBR post London 2012. Riders in the top 30 of the Rolex Rankings can get to all the top Shows...but others struggle...and to move up the Rankings, one needs to be at the top Shows! Also Nations Cups allow developing riders and developing horses the opportunity to compete at the top level. So Dublin will be important......and Agha Khan day (Nations Cup) in Dublin is a very very special day in the Jumping calendar....you have got to be there to feel it and drink the atmosphere (you will not alone in the drinking bit!)...so book your tickets now!!!

Arrivals start tomorrow. Sophie Thomas, Sarah Armstrong, Claire Shand and Brendan Murray all arrive tomorrow. I am not sure how many Games Brendan has done (eventing farrier) but he seems to recall the last time the Games were in London with great clarity. I will take them up to the Olympic Village to validate their accreditation and have a nose around; the ladies can go shopping and Brendan and I will head to the Dining Hall to see if the Swedish ladies’ soccer team are still in town....

So, tomorrow the graft starts; we will have three Land Rovers full of kit to unload in to our Office / Conference Room. It is tempting to work late right from the off....and that tends to bite you on the posterior at a later stage of the Games.....so, on that note...good night!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Day Five - New Lodgings

Another day, another Hotel.  A couple of hours at the computer and then I hot footed it down to Hickstead.  On the way I had a quick look at the Equine Staging Facility (ESF).  It was the Equine Staging Post...but then some switched on spark realised that it might become a hotspot for Rioja drinking, castenet playing party goers........with me yet...ESP = Spain.

The ESF is where all horse boxes / horses will pass through on their way in to Greenwich:  Horses will have an initial Health check while the horseboxes are security screened; kit will be taken away, screened and delivered separately to the Venue.  The ESF is taking shape and I know with Jenny Hall (Veterinary Services Manager) and Martin Atock / Henry Bullen (Peden) the needs of the horses will be well catered for.  Once I had snapped a couple of photos it was on to Hickstead....

Fair to say that the Hickstead horsebox park was not very.....green; the weather had been unkind and the horseboxes had demonstrated their ploughing abilities; but all was being done to get the horseboxes in and out and a well oiled machine was overseeing vehicular control.

The Main Arena was, however, ......very green.  The going was perfect, despite the rain that had fallen.  This is testament to the investment the Bunn family put in to the arena over the last few years with Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) carrying out major (and very costly) work after the 2010 Royal International.  The arena is now probably the best grass arena in the world.

I have spoken much about what I have been up to but a quick catch up around the country:  Eventing have just completed three days of training that culminated in a Combined Training competition (dressage & jumping).  To help create an atmosphere we ensured the arena was fully “dressed” and we also brought in a small but very vivacious “rent a crowd”.  Reports were that all the horses looked good but there is still room for improvement.  Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage were out in force (as was the rain) at the Hartpury Festival of Dressage; Janet Plant and her team were most helpful and accommodating to our needs and endless requests . . . . thank you.  The showjumpers trained earlier this week prior to heading off to their final competitions with their Olympic horses: Nick Skelton and Scott Brash to France with the others all competing at Hickstead (although Ben and Peter’s Olympic horses will only jump on Day 1...i.e. today...or yesterday when you read this...to be accurate, I am referring to Thursday!).

Meanwhile back in the Cauldron (the office at Stoneleigh) Sarah, Sophie and Debbie will be preparing to close up the office and move to London.  It has been some admin challenge getting to the start blocks...not always helped when so much time is spent chasing people for information.  The Olympics generates forms, restrictions and annoying rules and regs like no other competition; but coping with this sort annoyance is part of learning to win at the Games. 

Over 1300 items of clothing have been sent out (this is in addition to what the BOA hands out)...pallets / trunks dropped off with each rider...a horsebox full of kit sent to Greenwich....tickets distributed...endless phone calls received (no, there is no car parking at Greenwich); 4 forms per rider, 3 per all other accredited staff completed.... twin track entry system followed (one through the FEI one through the BOA to LOCOG)....telephones distributed...telephone cards printed...Handbooks / Travel Guides written and distributed. So it goes on and on.  But that is what we are here to do...!

Friday is Nations Cup day at Hickstead,  The British Team has been drawn first so Will Funnell will be the pathfinder.  Germans and French have strong teams but the British riders are all very experienced Hickstead riders...GOOD LUCK.        

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Day Four – One of those days

We all plan our days......don’t we?  For me it is a Team effort; I lie in the bath, Malt whisky to hand, rubber ducks riding the waves and plan the next 24 hours.  An aside; I do not do  Birthdays, or for that matter, Christmas – they just seem an excuse for a day off from work and money wasted on expensive baubles.  However, I did have my beliefs slightly shot away recently when I received a Team GB rubber duck...a collectors’ item  - although he (or is it a she) has slightly upset the pecking order within the formerly referred to parade of the bath based duck flotilla.
So back to the planning.  Today was about three things; 1) Moving Rooms...all pre ordained and for good reason  -2) Catching up on those b*^&&%£$y emails and 3) Visiting the various hotels that we have reserved for owners / staff / international Teams’ Tent (ITT) volunteers.  I will come back to the ITT.
40 minutes were allocated by the Ducks to 2).  How difficult could it be?  All my clothes were hanging on a portable clothes rail (see Day 1) – so all I had to do was wheel it out of the current room into the new room....which was on a different floor...not a problem, this hotel has a lift! Cool!  Of course I forgot; portable means dismountable...as I exited the lift, the wheels became embedded in that annoying space between lift and floor..clothes rail became a chaotic series of unconnected aluminium tubes and a lost my battle with vertical posture and collapsed amongst aforementioned clothes and aluminium tubes.  At this point a senior member of the International Club for Damn Attractive Ladies walked round the corner, took one look at me and announced (through the look on her face)....“wow, who let him out of the asylum”.  We have been looking at the advantages and disadvantage of competing at home since 2008....it will be interesting to see if our crystal gazing and planning pays off.
There is so much admin that goes on behind the scenes.  Sometimes I wonder if we take on too much.  In comparison to other sports or Nations’ equestrian teams we have secured more tickets and more hotel rooms than anyone else....by a golden mile.  But it seems we can never satisfy all.  I wish we could do more but the Games are like no other environment.  I started planning 30 minutes after London won the Games...I spoke to the Director of Sales for Accor to try to get rooms that very same day (as the announcement) – he was very polite, slightly amused but explained (with a very French accent) that I was right at the bottom of the totem pole.  Looking back, in a way, Hong Kong (Beijing 2008 Olympic & Paralympic Games) was much easier – there was no choice; everybody needed a flight, everybody needed transport from the airport and everyone needed a room in one of the two hotels (on being the Village) that we were using.  There is far far too much choice with London!!   

So the emails;  this was very much lastminute.com admin, tying up all the various arrivals, accommodation plots etc etc.  Oh yes...and just to add to the “To Do List”..all my Paralympic ParalympicsGB clothing turned up today; I am now a registered and recognised Adidas clothing Store.

We are in the “Games Period” now – this means that all athletes are considered in competition and through the BOA have to record their Whereabouts (where they are sleeping / competing / training) – this is for anti doping measures and the Testers will be on the road knocking on athletes’ doors.  All of Team GB that have accreditation are now officially “under command” of the BOA.  This “Games Period” continues through to 15th August, regardless of whether athletes have finished competing and have left London.
I met up with Tim Hadaway and Alec Lochore yesterday to discuss various aspects of the Games.  Tim is the Big Boss of Equestrian in London and Alec runs the Eventing side.  The team have done a fantastic job, coping with a number of challenges linked to bringing equestrian to a Royal Park in the middle of London.  However, I sense an air of excitement as the big day approaches.....we get access to the Venue this Sunday.

I am off to Hickstead first thing tomorrow.  The Nations Cup (team competition) is on Friday although none of our Olympic horses will be jumping in the Nations Cup.  Hickstead have done fantastic work to the main arena....I am sure this is paying dividends taking in to account recent weather....... 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Day Three – Tour Guide…on tour

I am exhausted; but it is a rather pleasant feeling. Another day spent in the Olympic Village; another day on duty as a Tour Guide.  Prior to Tour Guide duties starting, I made sure the fridges in the riders' and staff flats were stocked with a variety of drinks (definition of failure of the logistics plan - no Coca Cola Zero for Yogi).  I also caught up with some admin jobs: For example, collecting our VAP....Vehicle Accreditation Pass....this will allow one of our vehicles to use the special Olympic lanes that, whist unpopular with some, are vital for the smooth running of a Games.

Next task....some photos...oops...no camera.  Fear not as I am Mr Communication.  So during the Games I will be lugging around;
  • One times Blackberry
  • One times HTC Smart phone thingy with a keyboard and touch screen.....get me (I can't use 99% of the functions but it is SMART!)
  • One times iPad (ditto to Smart phone ref understanding it)
  • One times Nokia phone....which apparently takes photos......
Please do not ask...one day I will explain...it is complex ok!  So I fear the rain...if all these Comms devices go up in smoke, I am going to disappear in a flash of blue lightening.

So I set off to capture images of the Village.........and my feeble attempts are far from Baileyisc...and trying to get them on to my laptop...that certainly caused my blood pressure to leap.

Back to my exhaustion and why it feels rather good; today I was Tour Guide for the eventing grooms....and they really caught the “Olympic spirit” bug.  We avoided yesterday's arrival / departure issues by meeting at St Pancras and using the Javelin....VERY efficient. I think they enjoyed it...well let’s not mention the star spotting (male star spotting)....and then there was the photo sessions...and then the shopping; are you feeling my pain???  But it was a privilege to give these hard working and often unrecognised people a taste of the Village - there would be no Equestrian Team without Grooms.

So I sign off and leave you with proof as to why I will never make a photographer.......

Very powerful symbols
The Olympic Village

The view from inside
Athlete's bedroom with presents
The dining hall
Flag raising ceremony
 The grooms validating their accreditation
One to show their grandchildren....
View from the Village