Today was “Freedom Day” for H&H’s team at the Tokyo Olympics – yes, after three days in our hotel rooms, we were released to go out into the world (with multiple Covid restrictions still in place, of course).
It started early. One of the downsides of operating against the backdrop of a global pandemic is that no one is allowed to use public transport during their first 14 days in Tokyo. This Games was always meant to rely heavily on public transport and two years ago, I chose our hotel with a view to a 30-40 minute journey by train to the Equestrian Park.
Enter Covid and public transport being out of bounds. A 30-40 minute journey has become a 2hr-plus journey, because to use official Games transport, we have to cover two long sides of a triangle, taking a bus from our hotel to the Media Transport Mall (MTM) at the Main Press Centre and back out to the Equestrian Park.
Anyway, the promised 5.57am bus from our hotel materialised only a few minutes late, and we were on our way.
Arriving at the venue at 8.25am – after a short bus nap, a warm 45-minute wait at the MTM while we changed buses and a cry of “There’s Yogi Breisner!” out of the bus window as we approached – I reckoned things were starting to look up.
Tokyo Olympics Equestrian Park: first impressions
We went through the mandatory security checks (think airport) and walked along the back of the stadium and then suddenly, there was a gap in the stands and we had our first view of the arena.
It was breathtaking.
The stadium has seats for nearly 10,000, with stands rising high into the blue sky. Everything looked immaculate – purple Tokyo 2020 branding everywhere, rolled surface with a dressage arena already set up, big screens with the dressage schedule displayed.
There will, of course, be no spectators at these Games. A few hundred of us – officials, media, riders, support teams – will rattle around in this venue for the next two and a half weeks. There will be a moment of sadness every time I look at those stands, which should have been filled with cheering spectators. And we can’t even try to make enough noise to fill the void – cheering and singing is discouraged, with Covid in mind, though clapping is allowed.
We found the media centre and dropped our bags, and then made our way up into the stands, from which the view was even better. And aside from the arena itself, we were able to look out the back to the multiple warm-up areas and the cross-country schooling course, all looking very much like pony paradise. The main cross-country is, of course, not here – the travelling circus will decamp to Sea Forest, an island out in the bay, for cross-country day.
And so to the Olympic dressage trot-up. Everyone who wanted to watch this was able to pile into one stand alongside the horse inspection strip – there was plenty of space, even with social distancing. It was in the shade, but even so, after half an hour or so one started really to appreciate how hot it is here. It’s over 30°C today. In real terms, it’s that weather where you don’t want any part of your body to touch any other part of your body or both will be instantly sticky.
This was, possibly, the slowest trot-up I’ve ever been to. Lengthy waits between delegations. I know we had all day, technically, but we quickly became aware that the last bus back to the MTM was at 12.48pm… not something we thought would be a concern with a trot-up starting at 9.30am.
Still, it was wonderful to see some horses and to revel in the detail given to the Olympics by both teams and organisers – I love to see all the teams’ national uniforms and even the horse’s numbers have Tokyo 2020 branding.
It was time to remember why we’re here. Ultimately, lengthy bus rides, days of hotel quarantine and whether we melt don’t really matter. We’re at the Olympics and it’s all about the sport. Let the Games begin.
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