When show jumping, eventing and dressage take place in 2012 against the evocative backdrop of the River Thames and the Greenwich Observatory, it will be the first time in post-war history that the equestrian events have been at the Olympic hub.

As chairman of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) Hugh Thomas puts it: “It’s a cliché, but it will mean that equestrianism is at the heart of the Olympic Games.”

It is rare to have equestrian sports within 30 miles of an Olympic stadium. The cross-country has never been in a city centre — Los Angeles (1984) and Barcelona (1992) involved considerable treks — and only eventing’s new shorter format makes Greenwich possible.

Pratoni del Vivaro was a good hour outside Rome (1960), similarly Campo Marte from Mexico City (1968), Bromont from Montreal (1976), the equestrian park from Seoul (1988) and Georgia International Horse Park from Atlanta (1996). More recently, the equestrian sports at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 were a significant bus ride away.

1956 is the extreme example, when the Olympics proper were in Melbourne and the equestrian disciplines in Stockholm, but there’s also more than 1,000 miles between Hong Kong and Beijing (2008).

Previous speculation about where the equestrian disciplines might be held in 2012 is quashed by Hugh’s visible excitement about Greenwich.

“When we won, I didn’t know whether Greenwich would be all right, having not been involved in the bid, so thought I’d better have a look,” he explains. “Having imagined it would be just OK, I then came away really enthused.”

When London hosted the 1948 Olympics, the eventing was at Aldershot — with the steeplechase at Tweseldown — and the show jumping at Wembley, but such fragmentation will not be happening in 2012.

“Greenwich is going to be a temporary facility and I know some people would have liked to see a new centre developed, but I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. After all, the grandstands and arena at Badminton are temporary,” says Hugh.

There will be a test event for the three-day in 2011, plus show jumping and dressage nearer the Olympic date.

Adverse comment on Greenwich focuses on potential lack of space, but Hugh points out that the site has been assessed by some of the sport’s most experienced officials.

“There’s a well worked-out document that shows plans for training areas, arenas, grandstands and stables. Tim Hadaway has produced a plan that shows we can get a 7,000m cross-country distance. And there are natural ponds and gullies, which makes it a fantastic place to design a course.”

  • Read H&H’s interview with Hugh Thomas in full in the current issue (16 March, ’06)
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