I don’t do buses. But to get from my London borough to Greenwich’s Royal version, the best option is by a lengthy bus journey to Lewisham, then the DLR. This – ahem – epic journey proves surprisingly easy. I had hoped to steal a bit of a march on the uninitiated Games goers by getting off the DLR at Cutty Sark rather than Greenwich, as it’s much closer to the park, but am scuppered because Cutty Sark is shut.
Once at Greenwich, however, it’s a breeze. Everything is clearly signposted, and the “Games Makers” (no sniggering at the back) are a delight – smiling, friendly, helpful, waving giant pink foam hands and high-fiving youngsters. I even pat a horse – not a dressage contender, sadly, but a police remount on “meet and greet” duty with its charming rider.
Getting into the Olympic park is much easier than expected. Yes, there are queues, but not long ones and everything is quick and slick. Someone is overheard to ask: “Do I need my passport?” No comment. As we file past Army personnel manning the metal-detectors and baggage X-ray, someone mutters: “It’s like going through a bloody airport.”
No, it isn’t. Going through an airport takes considerably longer and no one smiles and hopes you have a lovely day.
And it is lovely, at least to start. Not too hot, but the sun is shining and the arena looks magnificent. The already immaculate surface is being raked as I take my seat, a good hour and a half before the action begins.
Perched up in “the gods”, I feel rather lonely so start taking snaps of the arena. A Games Maker appears and offers to take my photograph. Hell no! But it is sweet of him to offer and many spectators happily hand over their cameras for once-in-a-lifetime group shots.
Nikki Crisp and Passoa “test drive” the surface and are given a rousing cheer. But then the commentator asks the crowds to keep their applause to the minimum as competitors enter, so as not to spook the horses. We obey, of course, until Carl Hester comes in with Uthopia, then the audience erupts. “Shush!!!!” admonishes the competitor and we all look slightly guilty.
Carl and “Uti” are unfazed, however, and perform a wonderful test for 77.720. Perhaps not the best they’ve ever done, but good enough to propel them into the lead. They’re not caught, either, but their closest rival is fellow Brit Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris on 76.839.
Later the heavens open and everyone gets soaked, but very few people leave and the atmosphere remains one of good cheer. How very British.
So at the end of the first day, Great Britain is leading the team dressage – that’s an Olympic first in itself. And there is a long way to go before the dressage medals are sorted out. But for the Greenwich experience, the fabulous atmosphere, the happy, friendly people, the equestrian venue itself – we can all be proud to be British.
Full 13-page report on the team dressage in H&H out next FRIDAY, 10 August