Greenwich – Awash With Challenges

Hyde Park | More Suitable

It’s no secret that the ticketing policy for London 2012 has been wholly unpopular, across all the sporting disciplines, and I have previously expressed my opinion that the venue chosen for the eventing, Greenwich Park, is unsuitable due to the pint-size nature of the venue and therefore it’s ability to satisfy anywhere near the demand there would be for the event.

Pippa Cuckson recently blogged about the ticketing allocations for the equestrian events, noting some half a million people expressed interest in the tickets for the horsey olympics. I’ve also just listened to a very interesting interview on the Eventing Radio Show with Sue Benson, the London 2012 course designer, who throughout the interview describes almost every part of her job relating the Greenwich venue as ‘a challenge’. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the LOCOG PR office when that interview gets mentioned in internal dispatches.

Greenwich Park is about one square kilometre, according to Sue she only has about 100 acres of undulating parkland to play with. It might of course be a little more than 100 acres, and by her own admission some of the hills are too steep to use. Greenwich has a myriad of red tape restrictions which prevents any permanent earth works taking place and no traditional turf management possible. There will be 2 water complexes for 2012, one of which makes use of a concrete lined paddle boat pool and another of which will be  a temporary pool put in place less than 6 weeks before the event – now there’s an interesting challenge!

All of this means there will be a number of portable fences used, which is not really a problem. If you look at many of the 3 & 4 star courses you’ll find plenty of portable fences. Badminton this year for instance had no fewer than 23 portable jumping efforts. I don’t see the issue being that you can’t hold a decent competition at Greenwich, and I’m sure the test event in early July will prove the venue is suitable, but as a venue capable of holding a championship event, I think it’s woefully inadequate.

The attendance at Badminton, Burghley, and to some extent Blenheim demonstrate that in the UK this sport is consistently capable of attracting 6 figure audiences for cross country day, yet Greenwich has a cap of 55,000 tickets for cross country day, and even that I think is on the high side in terms of capacity. It’s because of this low capacity that I challenge the decision to run the event here. One of main reasons cited for hosting at Greenwich is it’s proximity to the athlete’s village so that the riders could mix with the other athletes. I can seen that being a worthy consideration, but Greenwich means this is at the expense of the tax paying (olympic funding) public, and there are still plenty of other disciplines who won’t be participating at the athletes village, sailing for example.

The other thing I don’t really understand is what seems like an obsession to have so much undulating terrain in a cross country course. I know it helps course designers by making the optimum time harder to achieve and therefore adds influence to the cross country phase, but in this short-format age where courses require more technical technique than bravado, I don’t really see the absolute need for running up hill and down dale throughout a course. I think there are plenty of ways to challenge the optimum time and ways to force riders to balance their horses between the start and finish. Badminton is probably as flat as Hyde Park yet they manage to make a course that challenges the optimum time year in year out.

For me the olympics should be as much about putting on an event that as many as possible can engage with, as it is about the sporting challenge, that is after all one of the benefits of hosting an olympics – it lifts the nation’s morale by inclusion. The cross country phase is by it’s very nature not a stadium event, and therefore has the opportunity to disappoint fewer people by exclusion than, say, the million or so who won’t get to see the mens’ 100 metre final live, but applied to.

I truly feel for all those who won’t get the opportunity to be part of the Olympic eventing experience at Greenwich, and still maintain Windsor Great Park or Hyde Park are better alternatives. It is too late to turn the olympic ‘tanker’ around so we must make Greenwich work. Whatever my thoughts I can’t wait to see a home Olympics, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to cycling to Greenwich next summer!

Amateur event rider, aspiring photographer. Technologist by day.


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