The Olympic test event showed the world that Greenwich Park will provide a Games with the “wow factor”.
The invitational two-star eventing competition, held in the London park (4-6 July), featured a smaller cross-country course and arena than next year’s Olympic event.
According to equestrian competition manager Tim Hadaway, areas of improvement for 2012 have been highlighted, but the response from the public, media and equestrians has been positive.
One area for improvement is the arena surface, which showjumpers found “puddingy”.
Nick Skelton, who won the demonstration class with his top horse Carlo, said: “The view of the city is spectacular and I’m really looking forward to [next year]. But the course was only 1.45m or 1.50m and [the surface] was making the horses work hard. I found it dead, heavy.”
And David McPherson, who finished fifth with Billy Bishop, said: “It’s going to be an amazing event, but the surface has a pudding feeling.”
But Mr Hadaway pointed out that test events are meant to highlight such issues.
“There was insufficient opportunity to water and roll the surface before the event — but we’ll have six weeks to get it right before the Olympics,” he said.
Mr Hadaway said the test event had also demonstrated that spectators would need maps and clearer routes around the course.
And he said there would be two large screens at the Olympics — one in the arena and one out on the course, for spectators to watch all the action.
British equestrian team leader Will Connell was also pleased with the test event.
“I’m pretty critical about what I want from a championship venue but this has really delivered,” he said. “We now know that we have an Olympic and Paralympic venue that has a heart.”
And it won’t have hindered his enjoyment that the eventing competition was won by British rider Piggy French — “by a golden mile” as Mr Connell put it.
The eventers’ reactions
“I hope I haven’t peaked a year early,” Piggy joked. “There’s a long time to go between now and next year and horses are great levellers. But it gives me goose bumps to think I could be riding for my country in 12 months’ time.”
For Pippa Funnell the highlight was the 3,500 local schoolchildren invited.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to show people that our sport is not elitist and that we enjoy meeting new people and helping them to experience our sport,” she said.
The cross-country course was described by William Fox-Pitt as “a bit like a BMX track, so you need a handy pony”.
And Kiwi legend Mark Todd said it was “like a jump-off against the clock”, but added that the course rode well.
Only 9,000 spectators were invited to the test event, but at the Olympics Greenwich will cater for 23,000 for the arena competitions (dressage, showjumping and those phases of eventing) and 55,000 on cross-country day.
But Mr Hadaway said more cross-country tickets could be available.
“We are currently undertaking crowd modelling and traffic work but hope to increase that number,” he added.
This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (14 July, 2011)