Sixty equestrian venues across the UK have been chosen as potential training camps for overseas teams ahead of the 2012 Olympics.
The London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) revealed the names on Monday, 3 March along with a £25,000 award for each national organising committee that chooses to base itself in the UK in the run-up to the games.
But will the listed centres benefit, and will there be a demand for pre-Olympic training centres prior to London 2012 — especially for those in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? If not, what do “pre-Olympic centres” hope to gain by being on the list?
Only around 200 horses and 20 national teams contend Olympic show jumping, dressage, paralympic dressage and eventing, according to International Equestrian Federation (FEI) figures. European nations dominate equestrian competitions and will not need a lengthy acclimatisation or recovery period after travelling. In addition, LOCOG has warned that if the facilities at Greenwich are ready a fortnight before the games, many teams will choose to go straight there.
Other countries already have established eventing contacts in this country with whom they would likely be based — for example, the Americans at Gatcombe and the Australians with British-based Australian David Green.
But the same cannot be said for dressage, paralympic and show jumping teams — and these are the riders the centres will be hoping to attract.
“The number of equestrian teams who base themselves in this country remains to be seen,” said Will Connell of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF). “Some nations will base themselves on the Continent, but some teams, especially the eventers, may want to be here for a longer period to take advantage of our excellent circuit.”
However, Mr Connell admitted that the British team did not use pre-Olympic camps in Greece or Australia ahead of the Athens and Sydney Olympics.
“We were on site for 10 days before competing at Athens, but there was no other option than to stay on site. At Sydney we were bound by quarantine and were on site for around two weeks before the games.”
Among the centres chosen as a potential training camp venue is Great Leighs Racecourse in Essex (pictured), which was hoping to become the Olympic equestrian venue before Greenwich Park was chosen.
Pippa Cuckson at Great Leighs has announced the building of a cross-country course beside the new racecourse. Planning permission for show jumping and dressage arenas, as well as a 300-box secure stables complex, is in place.
But she stressed that Great Leighs was building the facilities anyway: “There are three times as many places on the list as there are national teams competing in Olympic equestrianism, so it is obvious that some of us will miss out.”
However, some smaller and more far-flung centres are upbeat about the chances of being asked to host an Olympic team.
Robin Dunlop, of Grange Farm Stables near Peterborough, said that although he was aware the biggest teams would stay with established contacts in the UK, there was no reason why his yard could not attract one of the lesser nations.
“There is a good chance that we could attract a team. We could certainly cope if we did do so,” he said.
And the director of the Scottish National Equestrian Centre near Edinburgh, Carson Jones, is undeterred by being the only approved centre in Scotland, believing this puts it in a unique position. “We shall be actively approaching teams after Beijing,” he said.
Another company— Stetchworth Equine — is so keen to join the Olympic gravy train that, even though its Newmarket project has not been chosen as an Olympic training camp, it is keen to build it anyway, and feels it will attract a major team.
Stetchworth Equine’s Ian Wright said: “We have been in talks with a number of organising committees in respect of the games and feel quite positive about our chances.”
BEF 2012 consultant Tim Hadaway says LOCOG and BEF have been straight with potential centres about the reality of being chosen as an Olympic base.
“We have warned people not to pin their hopes on getting teams and I am not aware of any centre which has developed facilities solely in the hope of becoming a 2012 training camp,” he said.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (13 March, ’08)