Cross country day at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was amazing – in so many ways. We thought there might be problems with traffic so left home just after 5am. We arrived in plenty of time with few delays.
Of course, the carpark saga continued once arriving at Haras du Pin.
Our prized carpark pass got us past the initial security, and then we were sent into what looked like the public car park, some distance from the entrance and totally different to the two other carparks we have previously used. We got past the bogged camper van, and found ourselves a good spot in a paddock with very long grass. The sturdy and very dirty Mark Todd Boots went back on instead of the runners I had planned on wearing.
We left the others in the car to rest up before they headed to the XC and headed up the hill – my broken-legged colleague managing OK, albeit a bit slowly. For anyone with a more serious disability it would have been impossible. In fact, anyone not able to walk well would have had a terrible trip to WEG.
In for a treat
We were among the first into the media centre. It was a great plan, as not only did we get a bit of the free supply of chocolate bars, croissants and water before supplies ran out (blame the greedy photographers who blame the greedy journalists), we also got a chance to put up our Kiwi flag. Well, we had to do something to counter our American neighbours (Horse Nation) who were showing their colours. (Note, we have both agreed that we will never sit next to each other again after the non-completion of both our teams!)
As my mobile phone was unable to receive or make texts, emails, or any form of communication with the outside world at Haras du Pin (limited internet coverage was overloaded I guess), we had to resort to me running up and down the hill to the main media centre to give Vicki the quotes from the riders and quickly download a couple of pictures. That worked well (especially for Vicki) until the entire media wifi system crashed for about an hour, just after Tim Price’s round. It worked well for my fitness/weight management goals.
I won’t go into details about how everyone went over the very testing ground, there are many reports of that and I don’t have the energy to rehash the Kiwi team’s demise. It was great to see Jonelle do so well, she’s a gritty, determined and very talented rider. And a lovely person. I ran into Jonelle’s mum, Leslie, just as Jonelle was coming down towards the start of the course. She was one nervous lady (Leslie, not Jonelle, although she probably had a few fluttery nerves, too). She didn’t want to watch but didn’t want to miss anything. To see her smiling face after Jonelle blitzed the round was one of the highlights of the day. She was waiting to see Jonelle but couldn’t find her, so I dragged her into the media mixed zone where there was a brief but poignant mother-daughter reunion hug.
Our mixed zone got pretty busy at times, so some of the barriers that had been put up with the sponsors logos had to be taken down to prevent traffic jams amongst the riders. There were two TVs in the tent, one for the live scoring complete with a little ticker graphic of the riders’ progress on course. The graphic of the galloping horse would move along and as fences were completed successfully a tick would appear, or an x for a stop, f for fall etc. As the TV coverage focused largely on the French, English and German, we often had to rely on the galloping horse to see what had happened, as we couldn’t hear the commentary, live or on TV. The graphic broke down for some time, just before Mark Todd’s round, so we had to watch that one on the TV. When it came back it worked for the rest of the day, but would miss putting the tick in, so there was always a bit of a tense time thinking someone had missed a fence, until the graphic caught up. There were screams of anguish amongst the journalists and camera people who spent most of their day in the mixed zone when someone accidentally pulled the cord out.
One slow-motion replay of one competitor falling kept us all entertained – not by the fall, but by the expressions of the people watching! Seemed a bit wrong to be laughing while watching someone’s WEG hopes being dashed – guess it was an “inside the tent” moment.
Riders would be shepherded into the mixed zone to the waiting journalists. Many would have one eye on the TV to see what was happening, and there were times when both journalist and rider would pause to watch the TV or the rider’s attention would be diverted when they heard the big “ooooh” both from other journalists and from the tent next door where team management, riders and owners were watching it on the big screen.
When Zara came in, there was a rush towards her to get her words of wisdom. Crack and groan went the floor, and we definitely felt it move. Everyone stepped back a bit then, and behaved much more orderly, in fear that the floor would swallow them up!
In between running up and down the hill between mixed zones and media centres, I had a few times when I could watch the start/finish and see a bit of the action with my own eyes. I enjoy watching the riders at the beginning of the course. Some are visibly nervous, others look like they are made of steel (ie, Nicholson and Paget). I was amused to see that one Brazilian rider crossed himself and did a little prayer before going into the start box. It worked; he got home safely!
The riders are impressive with their levels of professionalism. Michael Jung grows in my estimation each time I meet him. When he is answering your question, he stares right into your eyes, those clear blue eyes seem so very deep.
I was most impressed with the Portugese rider, Francisco Seabra, what a little cutie he is. So very charming, too. William Fox-Pitt was another who impressed – being able to do interviews in English as well as French.
The rest of our party reported having a great time in their various positions. They were appreciative of the packed lunch we had made, avoiding the huge queues at the food stalls. They were not so happy with having to use the toilets there. The queues for the women’s toilet were an hour for some. My other half reported that he decided he would “duck into the woods”, following the example of other people. He thought it an idea to go a bit deeper into the woods and was very startled to find there several women who had the same idea. I understand that the sight of some large white buttocks sent him running back out of the said woods. Apparently, going in the bushes was common practice for many throughout the day. We in the media had the luxury of some fine portaloos. The first day they were in front of the media centre, but apparently the TV got them shifted as they didn’t think viewers wanted to see us going in and out of them all day long as the centre was right behind one of the early fences.
We attended the media conferences at the end of the day. Unfortunately, there were two. The first was about the sad demise of Wild Lone. Poor Harry Meade attended (he didn’t have to) and caused some of the English media to cry as he talked so lovingly about his horse. I just had something in my eye.
Then it was time for the leaders. There was a translator on hand for those who didn’t speak French/English. Poor Williams Fox-Pitt had to do his own translations! I thought this was a bit unfair to be honest, but “Big Willy” coped admirably.
By the time we got our photos up, our main social media responsibilities done, and reports in, it was gone 7:30pm. Trudge trudge trudge back up that hill one last time. I couldn’t help but look back on the course from the top with a bit of sadness but some disappointment that it hadn’t gone better for our Kiwi team, that the ground conditions had made it an endurance test rather than a test of skill, and that it was nearly all over.