Today’s blog was going to be about the good things about the Rio Olympics. I thought we could all do with a bit of positive news. I mean, the British eventers didn’t get a medal and there are bullets landing at Deodoro, but it’s not all bad and I wanted to convey that.
Then I got to security this morning and they were scanning accreditations. Mine was deemed incorrect and I was siphoned off to the accreditation office. Without much explanation, I was then spat back into another entrance tent and — after the most thorough bag search I’ve had since arriving and some explanations that yes, I’m a journalist, so I carry a laptop — in. The worst part was that the biosecurity pad at this tent was really really wet, so my feet are now soaked. Thank goodness I wasn’t wearing socks.
Perhaps this is part of the heightened security procedures after yesterday’s “incident”? Who knows. Anyway, I’m in and it’s on to the good news, as planned.
For me, the thing which is really making this Olympics is the mixed zone set-up. For journalists, this is a make or break situation when we arrive at a championship and it’s always my greatest anxiety in advance.
You see, we need to be able to watch the action and talk to the riders. Not too much to ask, eh? But a mixed zone where you can actually see the action live is very rare luxury. Sometimes, mixed zones don’t even have TVs, so you have to choose between knowing what happened in the competition and getting quotes from riders about it — you can’t have both.
This also leads to hilarious situations where you are trying to fish round to find out from riders what on earth actually happened to them — sometimes you just have to be honest and say: “I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to actually see your test/round, could you tell us about it?” Most riders are super helpful, but it’s never ideal.
But the set-up here at Deodoro is fantastic. Our mixed zone is right on the edge of the arena, so we can see into the ring, plus we have TVs. You can be talking to one rider, while looking behind them into the arena to see another. Small things like that — which way you face while interviewing — make a huge difference.
Plus, it’s near both the press tent and the stands. If you want to watch a rider perform from the stands, you can easily make it down to the mixed zone to talk to them afterwards. Hell, you can even have a wee first if you need to. And my seat in the press office is perhaps 30 steps away from my mixed zone interview position. These are the things dreams are made of for us journalists.
One of the other great things about the mixed zone is Julie. Julie is in the picture at the top of this page. She’s our mixed zone manager and she’s doing a wonderful job.
The Olympics has a strict priority order of interviews — TV, then Olympic News Service, then other print journalists. We all understand that’s necessary. But Julie has common sense and flexibility and so long as we all behave ourselves and play nicely with others, she’s letting us print journalists creep forward and interview with the Olympic News Service. It makes perfect sense, as then riders don’t have to say everything yet another time.
We had a great set-up on cross-country day, too. Our mixed zone was right on the edge of the wind down area, so we could see horses finishing live, and we had two TVs for watching the action.
The mixed zone is a fun place to be. Most of the journalists have a national bias — everyone is rooting for their riders — and we all support and console each other. It’s a rolling crew — with the eventing over, An Eventful Life’s Debbie Higgs (Australia) and Eventing Nation’s Jenni Autry (USA) have gone home, but some of us are in for the duration, including The Chronicle of the Horse’s Mollie Bailey (USA) and NZ Horse & Pony’s Jane Thompson (no prizes for guessing where she’s from).
There was a special moment on cross-country day when Mark Todd came in and greeted German journalist Gabriele Pochhammer, who bred his ride Leonidas II.
Sometimes, the quotes of the day come from the journalists themselves. As we watched a Russian rider get himself together out on the course on cross-country day, Mollie piped up: “The drugs have finally kicked in.” Of course we’re not suggesting the equestrian athletes are involved in this scandal, but it was very funny.
Similarly, I asked Jenni what had happened to a rider I had missed have a problem at an early fence. She considered for a moment and then summed up: “It was one of the most disastrous things I’ve ever seen.” Fair enough.
As Mollie just said when I asked permission to quote her, we’re all in this together — and we’re making it fun.
In other good news, the showers in our flat are now lukewarm rather than stone cold, and we went out for a really good dinner last night. Oh, and you get these bananas at breakfast in our food tent and they are really tasty and cute.
Sometimes, it’s the small things.
H&H is out on Friday instead of Thursday this week to allow us to report the full Olympic eventing competition from Rio. Make sure you pick up a copy tomorrow and follow today’s dressage action here.