Yesterday’s Olympic rider list is the most hotly anticipated news of the year. I’ve never been to one of these live team annoucement events before as it’s all usually done via email with a fairly pedestrian press release for major championships, but the Olympics is The Big One.
It was only at the end of last week that we learned that there would be a live declaration. The BEF’s cryptic communication — which stressed that the information was for planning and not for publication — cryptically just gave “Wiltshire” as the location.
For “planning” purposes, we asked where in Wiltshire it would take place (I mean, Wiltshire is 1,346 square miles so they wouldn’t exactly be spilling the secret beans by saying which end of it we were dealing with here).
We were given short shrift and reminded that the initial communication had said the information would be shared on Monday. I mused about the lack of information over the weekend, but when I got the address on Monday morning, a quick google revealed why they didn’t want to share it earlier. It was to be at Kitty King’s base near Chippenham at 11am the following day. So she was on the list.
The showjumping team had been leaked over the weekend, so the major question marks remaining were over William Fox-Pitt’s selection and who the fourth rider would be to join Carl, Charlotte and Fiona for dressage.
Bear in mind then that all invited journalists who have google (yep, all of us) knew that Kitty had been selected since seeing the address and could have made that information public.
But there is a big dollop of trust involved with these things, and nobody squealed. It was disappointing then that @eventingstig shared a screenshot from Kitty’s sister Lucy’s Facebook account at 10.37am on Twitter, letting the Kitty out of the bag about her selection — 27 minutes before the waiting journalists were given the green light to go public.
Sometimes, in this job, we are in possession of information that it is not prudent to share. When I pulled into Kitty’s, I saw Fiona Bigwood. I could’ve blurted about it on social media, but that’s just not cricket (this is an unsubtle nod to Test Match Special’s Jonathan Agnew who, as a newly-minted equestrian journalist preparing to commentate on all the horsey sport from Rio for the BBC, was also at Kitty’s. His number plate is even TMS — perhaps he can replace it with H0R5E after the Olympics?).
Which way to turn?
Meanwhile, back at Kitty’s base. It’s 10.55am, five minutes until The Big Reveal, and we’re asked to assemble in the back garden. There’s a buzz among the journalists — about 30 of us, and a good mix of equestrian and non-equestrian media. My colleagues in the office and I had set up a Whatsapp group called The Big Announcement so that I could communicate with them and, from their desks, they could whack the stories up live online within seconds of the names being uttered.
Presumably the BEF performance director Dan Hughes is going to stand before us and read them out, I thought. Nobody is even sure which way to face. Will the riders come through the house? Or across the immaculate lawn? Or come hidden in a massive red white and blue Olympic cake? Or or or? The excitement was almost too much, even for the hackneyed old hacks.
11am came and went. The tension.
We’re all still milling about, heads swiveling to try to be the first to pick up on any signals of who might have made the cut. At 11.04am, I become aware of a lady in an official team top (there were a fair few of them about) among us with a sheaf of papers. She asks me if I’d like a press release. Sure I would.
I look at the release and my heart surges like 10 espresso shots. Bloody hell, this is it! The names! The horses! They were all there right in front of me. The Big News. And no ceremony.
In my haste to send the info to my waiting in-office colleagues (who were sending messages like ‘Eeek SO EXCITED’) on the Whatsapp group, I inadvertently send them a wild-hair selfie rather than a picture of the list. Hate it when the phone does that.
With shaking, stabbing fingers I finally get the information over to them in a modern version of short-hand (one message simply read: Ben Nick JW MW) and, by 11.08am, all three of our team announcement stories were live and shared across social media.
Then Dan appeared and announced that a number of the riders were on-site. But not Carl or Charlotte as they were preparing for Hartpury Festival of Dressage, where they are taking about a dozen horses between them.
The riders appeared and trooped over from the corner of the garden. It would be unfair on them to say it was a let-down. But it was a little anti-climactic.
They were spearheaded by John and Michael Whitaker, flanked by Nick Skelton and Ben Maher. None of them looked wildly excited, but then again they had had days for the information to sink in. We journalists were still fizzing with fresh, child-like excitement.
The eventers and two of the dressage riders stood at the back. They’d all been dressed in official blue Adidas tracksuits. In the sun, they were a bit shiny. Yes, they are all supreme “athletes” and athletes can rock the tracksuit look, but most of them looked like fish out of water. Or like people heading to the corner shop hoping not to be seen by anyone they know en route.
Unfortunate tracksuits aside, it really is a remarkable group of repaired humans (head injuries, broken neck, brain haemorrhage etc etc) that we’re fielding for Rio.
Announcement day might have been really weird, but there’s nothing odd about the stunning talent of these selected athletes. And, make no mistake, whatever injuries they have sustained and overcome, these astonishingly talented people truly are athletes at the pinnacle of the possible.
Please make sure they are kept away from all naked flames between now and their respective big days; those outfits look awfully flammable.