It is Saturday the 2nd of August. The weather is pleasant today, sort of a mid-80s kind of day (temperature and humidity). We arrived yesterday afternoon after a mere eleven and half hour flight. Arrived in the concourse and were met with a plethora of people dressed in Olympic outfits to guide us through customs and accreditation. I guess I do not have to play house boy for five days like I did in Athens (this means that I have the ability to gain access to see the riders and the horses).
The riders immediately left for the Venue to check on their horses and pick up their Olympic Kit, and final bit of accreditation. I headed to the Sheraton Hotel in Kowloon, where Gina Miles’ Mother and Gina’s two children are staying as well. These two kids were amazing, considering how long the flight was, and I am not sure I would have behaved as well if it were not for the Ambien my dearest provided me. Yes, we were in the middle seats of the British Air 747, two rows up from the back of the plane.
I arrived to find an amazing view from the room over looking Hong Kong Harbor (pictured). Amy got back to the hotel from the Barns an hour or so after I first arrived. We changed into some appropriate clothes for a trip on a boat around Hong Kong Harbor and a dinner sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in a small restaurant located on another island. These were the folks responsible for completing an Olympic Equestrian venue in 3 years instead of the typical 8 years that most Olympic cities have for which to plan and build. Of course, horse racing is big around here. The Jockey Club is something like a 14 Billion Dollar business in Hong Kong, as the CEO told me, we were fortunate that we had the resources… I should say so.
Dinner was great, at least I liked it. We had three tables of about ten people each (Dressage, Eventers, the team staff, and the occasional family freeloader such as myself). Each table would receive a different course. It was a guess of what exactly some of the items were we were eating; the ones with the tentacles sticking out were a little easier to figure out. We returned back to the hotel by midnight, definitely a world wind tour from London to Hong Kong in 17 hours.
The US Team has security detail form the State Department, and while cruising the harbor a police boat was in tow. After the Athens Olympics you get used to the security so it is easy to look past; but I can say that it is clearly evident around the hotel and the city.
The next morning was a $40 dollar breakfast in the café… won’t make that mistake again. The riders now leave earlier so that they can eat breakfast in the Hong Kong Olympic Village.
The riders were off to the barns and their horses via a US sponsored shuttle. The farrier, Steve Teichman; the Team Vet, Brendon Furlong; the Team Manager, Sara Ike and I traveled to the Venue via train. It was an easy trip and I now have my octopus card for frequent travel. (What is it with tentacled things around here?) The trip is all of 7 miles away but can take up to an hour if you do it wrong, like get off at the wrong station. Oh well, life is an adventure after all, or was that the joining the Navy…I forget.
We finally all arrived and received our barn access accreditation; again, still a lot smoother than Athens. As you enter the stable area you are directed to clean your hands with antiseptic gel, and to do the same as you leave. As you can imagine, the people who walk in and out multiple times a day have a work around for this. (USA Eventers, Dressage and HJ stalls pictured.)
The air is a bit warm and muggy, but survivable. Walking into the barns is at first very refreshing; later it is down right cold after sitting there for a while!!! The horses are usually in their light-weight sheets to keep them comfortable and happy. The place is bright and airy and the facilities seem to be first class.
As usual with a large operation, there can be a few miscommunications that happen between the staff. The Stewards walk around frequently making sure all is well. Their job is to confirm that the rules are being followed. Well, you need a lot of Stewards to do this, and some rules are different for each sport. Now couple that with multiple languages and the bureaucracy that comes from a large organization and you have the right conditions for chaos, well okay, at least minor annoyances. Yesterday the rules were no horses out of the barns between noon and two; today it is noon and three. Can’t take your horse over there; now what are you doing over here, you can only be over there…you get the picture. The grooms are great sports and taking all this in stride.
It sounds like the grooms are getting treated better in the planning process than ever before. This is of help to all; trust that the only thing worse than a cranky rider is a cranky groom; unless of course you live with the cranky rider than there is nothing worse (did I really just write that). The grooms noted that they were not living in former UN relief shelters like they did at the Pan Am Games in Brazil and certainly a step up from what I have seen them endure in prior Olympic and WEG events. Apparently the food still leaves a bit to be desired, but at least there are opportunities to actually get some food. (Again, a step up from some prior events!)
I spent a few hours helping the Team’s Stable Manger, Doug Hanum and the Team's Farrier, Steve Teichman get all their gear sorted and organized for the coming weeks (gear leaving England pictured). Doug is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly in the barns and gets to where it is supposed to go. Some gear comes by plane and a lot comes by boat. He has to prep for the Eventing, Dressage, and Jumping competitions as well as the Para-Olympics coming up in September. A lot of work that goes unsung. He has been doing this since the ‘70s, and like all horse people is quite a character and adds a certain richness to the process.
Last night we walked up the street to have dinner in an “Italian” restaurant. The food was good, the service attentive, the cats out back active, and the occasional small little rodent running away from the active cats. The streets are bustling with activity, as only an Asian city can do. You feel both overwhelmed and serenely comfortable by the activity.
There is a lot of construction going on. The only real disconcerting thing about this is looking at what they use for scaffolding. The scaffolding is made out of bamboo, in some case 30 or 40 stories worth, all tied together with plastic twine! No OSHA here, I can tell you.
The horses are getting acclimatized well. Pogi is having great fun bucking in the warm up ring; apparently he is feeling quite well. The other guys all seem happy and are adjusting well. Lots of pampering by the grooms. McKinlaigh is probably the least happy since he got clipped yesterday by Gina. Although, once the trauma of clipping wears off he should be much happier with his new ‘do.
They are having a flat (dressage) lesson today from Sandy and Mark Phillips. (Pictured: Amy in England having lesson on Sandy's Grand Prix horse.) Tomorrow is a jumping lesson. Later in the week is some practice under the lights where they will be competing in the final show jumping rounds. The first two days they do dressage at the following HK times: 0630-0955; 1915-2240; and finally 0630-0955.
The horses, currently, travel to the cross-country site the afternoon before the start times. They ride cross country from 0800 until 1200; and will be heading back to the barns by 1400. It sounds like they will be having a police escort to block the road so the horses get priority while moving to the Beas River Equestrian Center (formerly a golf club, and eventually to be returned to its prior occupation).
The show jumping phase will be from 1915 until 2145 for the Team scores. The Individual Show Jumping phase will be from 2245 until 2350. And for those lucky enough, the medal ceremonies will be at midnight to one in the morning! So those early risers on the west coast should be okay for being able to watch the event. If you haven’t heard - NBC is going to be streaming live coverage of the Olympics, including all the Equestrian events using a new Microsoft program. So if you feel brave, go ahead and download it to watch. The streaming media will only have ambient or background sound, no commentary. A bit like watching tennis at Wimbledon with all the grunts and groans, I imagine.
The Harbor is great to watch (pictured). Watching movies like Star Wars, or Blade Runner, or similar, where there are all types (and conditions) of space vehicles traveling to and fro - I think to myself that the future could never be that way, after all look at all the same SUVs and BMWs driving on Seattle area streets. Watching the collection of boats plying the waters of Hong Kong, it is easy to see what the real future will look like in some outpost in a far corner of our Galaxy. Not really sure how some of them stay afloat.
Oh, by the way, if you are traveling on a British Air flight, and you happen to see a really nice black rain coat, can you bring it back for me? Arrrghhh.