Readers [not to mention the editor] will be relieved to know I’ve taken a few deep breathes and downed a cup of herbal tea to still my beating heart to the point I’m less likely to use any expletives here. But boy, that was jolly exciting, that cross-country at Greenwich there, wasn’t it.
H&H’s girl in Greenwich, Catherine Austen, has already told you about the competition, so I’ll stick to sharing the experience, for those who weren’t among the 50,000 of us lucky enough to get tickets.
First up, getting there. I vote we have the Olympics here more often, because never has the M25 Kent stretch been so quiet at 7am, never has my partner got a seat on the 8:30 into London Bridge, and I took a bus to and from something bigger than a football match in just 30min. Result. If you were one queuing for the tube at half seven tonight, I’ll give myself a slap on your behalf. But I’d still argue it takes longer to get into Badminton…
We were through security in a jiffy, too, and walking past the Maritime museum to reach the arena you get that, ‘yes, tourists, this is my hometown, damn I’m proud of it’, feeling.
If lack of queues and the initial view weren’t enough to convince you it was definitely the right decision to hold the equestrian events in London, trotting up the hill to the observatory and watching a horse jump over the moon into the city skyline would have broken you. That’s special.
The course was beautiful and apt, from the squirrels perched on chestnut logs to the luscious hanging baskets in the Rose Garden. The grass was like something out of Disneyland — unfeasibly green and soft and springy.
It turns out it was also sticky and slippery in places, with some horses losing shoes and others slipping to the point of elimination. Although perhaps they’d lost shoes already? I struggle to see how a studded horse would have slipped when so many before him hadn’t. I saw Miners Frolic slide, but then he was going at a lick round a corner with adverse camber… that’s physics. It was galling for Sam Griffiths to fall on the flat this way though.
Talking of Disneyland, they’ll be looking to recruit the Greenwich volunteers. Never have I met a friendlier and less officious group of officials. And not since my last visit to the States have I been told at such regular intervals to have a good/nice day.
This may seem irrelevant, but combined with the enthusiasm of the crowd, whether they were knowledgeable or not, it made Greenwich a truly happy place to be this afternoon. Yesterday I blogged in despair that an opportunity had been missed to enlighten and garner support from non-horsey ticket holders. Today, I take it back. Commentator John Kyle did an incredible job of both, calling for fans to raise the roof/sky, and they did. To the point I couldn’t hear him any more, but knew Zara or William were coming from the Mexican soundwave of delirium heading straight for me.
Among the joy, there was sadness. Yoshi’s fall from overnight leader to elimination, the Australians’ demise, pocket rocket Gin N Juice appearing at the crescent moon without his rider, and Camilla Speirs’ brave, diminutive Just A Jiff falling.
My heart went out to The Netherlands’ third and last rider, too, who was popped out the saddle at the water, putting herself and her team out of contention. She clung on like a limpet, way past the point gravity had beaten her, until relenting, she slid down into the lake, and rather than beating the ground in understandable frustration, went and patted her horse. It’s these Olympic heartbreaks that make the successes more poignant — there but for the grace of fortune go any of them.
It was a day I’ll never forget — Britain, forging silver, in my hometown. Thank you, Greenwich. Thank you very, very much.
- Sarah Jenkins is the deputy editor of Horse, Horse & Hound‘s sister monthly magazine, and a former dressage editor of Horse & Hound. She has her own personal blog at giddyandup.blogspot.co.uk