Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ouch and Really, Really, Really Wet (Aug 5th – Aug 9th)

It is Tuesday the 5th of August. Things are getting serious. The Team riders typically leave for the barns by 7am. They do their training, flat or jumping, have Team meetings at 8pm and start it all over.

Each day is an opportunity to make sure that the horses are acclimated to not only the heat and humidity, but other factors such as noise, the flashing of the giant jumbo-tron in the corner of the stadium, etc. Another concern is that the noisy and bright Olympic flame is going to be very close to all the action, a concern since you can’t very well practice having the flame lit if the Olympics haven’t officially started. Trust me, they are trying to figure out how to light it so that they can get the horses used to the experience. I half expect that there will be a news article describing the “miracle” of the self-igniting Olympic flame in Hong Kong. No it is not the second coming, just the Eventers overcoming another challenge…

The last few days have been hot, or as Robin Williams would say in Good Morning Vietnam: “Damn Hot”. Today was much cooler with rain from a passing Typhoon. We are at a stage 3 of 10; yeah I thought it was a 5 stage rating too, who knew… Basically it is supposed to be really windy and rainy tomorrow. Tough wearing a rain coat (especially when it isn’t as nice as the one that got left on the airplane, but I digress) when you get as wet on the inside, from humidity, as you do on the outside. The good news is that it should brush by us and keep going someplace else. It should then turn warm and muggy again. (Which, secretly, we are hoping for so our little desert rats can beat the European cart-pullers.)

Okay, so somewhere we upgraded to a stage 8 out of 10. The riders who stayed the night at the “Olympic Village” in order to get an early start were prevented from riding due to the wind and rain. Everything else shut down as well: trains, stores, etc. Sort of a snow day, but without all the fun associated. There was a bit of damage to buildings and the venue, most of it has been cleared and in the process of being repaired.

Before I get into the whole diversion of the last few days, two words: OUCH and REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WET. Okay that was five, but it serves a point, really. Today is actually now Thursday the 7th, the husbands arrived at the venue around 9AM. Our job, besides staying out of the way, is to run errands and find out all the ways one can get to and from the different venue sites. My Brother thinks I get lost because of some genetic-thing; no, I just get to go wander around looking at signs that it no way, shape, or form look like anything I ever learned in school and provide little to no help in direction. Besides, by doing this, we get to meet some really interesting people like the guy who is the handler for a really cranky Chinese Bomb dog.

Back to the whole OUCH and WET thing I was writing about… we arrived at the venue. Each time through security, it seems to be a different husband’s turn at getting the security screeners all riled up. Wednesday it was me. The husbands, on our aforementioned “errand,” went hunting for a grocery store so that the grooms (pictured: Ally) could get some food for making sandwiches and having some snacks. It is easy to want to look up in this City; after all, there are lots of big buildings and you are constantly smacked in the forehead by drops of fluid, all of which you openly pray are from the air conditioners operating on high; but to really find the hidden gems you have to look down into the buildings. They are sort of like bomb shelters hidden in the basements around here. So far there has been the Irish Pub we found, where the food is good and reasonably priced, and now the grocery store. No, this isn’t QFC or Safeway; but you can find individually wrapped whole frozen fish or seaweed-flavored potato chips. I won’t try to guess what is skinned and hanging in the meat section though.

Clearly, I have lost the direction of this posting but it is a bit like the city and the Olympic Games all wrapped into one. There is so much going on, yet nothing, so it is a bit overwhelming.

The riders are consumed with preparation and the boredom of only having one horse to take care of (sorry grooms, I mean, “ride” and not take care of). They get to go places, stay places, eat places, travel by various means (that husbands do not get to take part in) so in order to stay out of the way, and avoid the really expensive marriage counseling bill after the games, that is why the husbands usually fill the role of go-fers to be out of the line of site.

But as I was really writing about, the “Ouch” happened this morning (the 7th) while walking into the venue (I’ll tell you about my run in with security after the games) a large wasp like creature landed on my shoulder, roughly an inch and half in length. In the true spirit of the Games, I chose not to swipe at it and kill it; okay, I really didn’t want the darn thing to sting me. Instead, I chose to try and blow it off my shoulder, well it has been roughly twelve hours later and it still feels like someone has shoved a javelin into my shoulder. So, another note to self, besides the Chinese Bomb dogs being cranky, so are the really large wasps. The ice and several witch doctor cures that have been suggested to me seem to have helped reduce the swelling.

The “Really…Wet” portion came when we went to walk the cross-country course for the first time today. We were asked later by someone what they should wear to the course, we shouted in unison “a bathing suit!” Thankfully, I chose not to wear my rain coat (no, not that one, the other one), that would have been a useless effort in frustration. At some point the water does get warm after sitting next to your body long enough, really, although the riders still passionately disagree with me on this technical point. Not promoting any particular product here, but Keen sandals worked quite well; and I highly recommend the quick drying underwear, you’ll appreciate it later on the train, trust me.

I would post pictures of the cross-country course, but we are forbidden from doing that, plus a number of other things, on blogs or any other electronic communication means. Oh, that’s right if I tried to take pictures my camera probably would be a fish-bow by now.

Okay I am going to end this for now. It is August 9th, and I want to talk about the first day of Dressage. But before I go, on the 8th we went for another walk around the course. Remember when I was talking about the forced marches in England, yeah, well they followed us to Hong Kong. I guess I am going to have to start using the Bridge over the River Kwai visual, instead of Battaan. After we finished the “course walk”, it almost sneers at you in a sarcastic tone when you even say the word after trying to keep up with this group. Oh, by the way did I mention that Morgan, Mark Hart and I were trying to wheel the course and document the minute markers, while they are wandering here and there? Again I am getting ahead of myself. We measured it the first time on the 7th and came up a 160 meters long.

The course is set at 8 minutes long. The “optimum speed” is 570 meters per minute, so when you put the two together you are supposed to get a course that should be 4,560 meters in length, we got 4,720. Let me tell you the looks weren’t so peachy-keen from the Coach or the riders for that matter. Since we were drenched we called it a day. The riders had to get back to learn about being good Ambassadors for the Olympics and the USA, and Morgan, Mark and I needed to figure out how to get back home via the trains. Nothing like a bunch of white guys standing on a train in Asia, looking like drowned rats to draw attention. I’m thinking of the movie “My Cousin Vinny” where Joe Pesci is talking about how Marisa Tomei’s character needs to blend into the southern culture like he does, and she responds with “Yah, you blend…”

Okay, almost done… so needless to say we went back the first thing in the morning. Of course I had to leave 30 minutes sooner since I was taking the train up north to the cross-country site while the riders went via team van. We arrived at the same time, after my three connections. We measured the course again, and again it was pouring rain. They have had 7 inches of rain in the last three days. This time we were a hundred meters long. Basically what this is saying is that when their cross country watches starting beeping at them, they are still at least 100 meters away from the finish line, so they will start incurring time penalties for being over the optimum time of 8 minutes. As the riders are walking away the Coach asks us to wheel (measure) it one more time. This time he doesn’t want us to count the actual jumps in the distance (which can be 6 to 9 feet per jump and you have 39 jumping efforts, so it adds up.) In addition, he wanted us to measure it the shortest way possible, i.e. no horse could actually ride the line we followed. Guess what, with the wheel and without the jumps, Morgan measured the course 20 meters short; and I using the GPS including the jumps now measured it 50 meters long. In short, what I am talking about is that probably no one is going to make the optimum time, so expect everyone to be racking up time penalties on the cross country course. The incur penalties at the rate of .4 per second. So if you are ten seconds over the optimum time of 8 minutes, you will have 4 points added to your score. This is important because the lowest score is the winner!!!

Okay, I’ll talk a little more about the afternoon course walk with friends and family, and oh yeah the first day of dressage where after two riders Gina and Amy have the US in second to Australia (after their two best dressage scoring horses went!!!)

Take care. And thank you for your comments on the blog and well wishes via phone and emails. They are most appreciated, and as I walk around looking like the drowned rat in quick drying underwear, it lightens the mood a bit.

- Greg

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