There was a huge buzz of anticipation and excitement as the first horse inspection for the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC **) got underway in London (GBR) this afternoon at the first LOCOG test event in the build-up to London 2012.
Over the next three days, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games will test key aspects of the Greenwich logistics and operations in preparation for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, including the field of play, timing and scoring technology, venue installation and workforce.
A total of 40 riders from 23 countries will take part in the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational, which offers the normal grading points for an international CIC**, and which will involve Dressage tomorrow (Monday 4 July), Cross-Country on Tuesday and two rounds of Jumping on Wednesday in order to reflect the Olympic format.
There will also be demonstrations of the other Olympic equestrian disciplines of Dressage and Jumping, along with Para-Dressage to further test the facilities.
Greenwich Park, which dates back to 1433, offers spectacular views across London and is the British capital's oldest enclosed Royal Park. The World Heritage Site is home to many historic buildings including the Royal Observatory, the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum. London 2012 chairman, Sebastian Coe, has promised to treat the Park with "respect and care" in the build-up to next year's Olympic Games. LOCOG is working hard to ensure that the Park is restored to its original state and that disruption to the local community is kept to a minimum.
The use of Greenwich Park is also in keeping with Lord Coe's 2005 pledge that Britain would put sport and the athletes back at the heart of the Olympic Games. Now the equestrian venue is right back in the Olympic hub, ready for equestrian sport to celebrate its 100-year anniversary as part of the Olympic movement in 2012.
The Cross-Country course for this week's event will follow some of the route planned for the Olympic track, but the west side of the Park will remain open to the public. Of particular interest to the athletes and officials is the main arena which has been built on a custom-designed platform to achieve a flat surface. This is the first time this system has been used in an equestrian context.
Many of the leading riders from the sport of eventing are in the line-up this week, including British super-star William Fox-Pitt who should be feeling right at home as London was the city of his birth back in 1969. He will be joined by compatriots Piggy French, who finished second at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials this year, and former Rolex Grand Slam champion and double Olympic silver medallist, Pippa Funnell.
Germany sends Michael Jung, individual gold medallist at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, while Sam Griffiths and Clayton Fredericks will represent Australia and Alex Hua Tian will line out for China. But the man who so many people will want to see is 2011 Badminton champion Mark Todd from New Zealand who was voted "Event Rider of the 20th Century" by the FEI and who has made a sensational comeback to the sport over the last three years. His win at Badminton this spring was a vintage performance from the man who took back-to-back individual gold at the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988. He will be joined by fellow-Kiwi Andrew Nicholson.
The Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational is the first large-scale fixture in the London Prepares series and promises to provide an intriguing preview of what is to come while also providing important information and feedback for both organisers and athletes.
At today's first horse inspection just one horse, Jedi Dancer due to be competed by Sweden’s Dag Albert, was not accepted. Mark Todd presented both his own horse, NZB Campino, and fellow-countryman Andrew Nicholson's Viscount George. Dressage gets underway tomorrow, with the first competitor into the arena at 09.00 local time.
Biographies of all competing riders can be found here.
Photo Caption: New Zealand's Mark Todd pictured presenting Viscount George, the ride of his fellow-countryman Andrew Nicholson, at the first horse inspection for the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational (CIC**) in London (GBR) today. Photo: Peter Llewellyn/FEI.