Olympic Eventing: Cross-Country Wet, But a Bright Day for Sport

The good news is that the anxiously awaited eventing cross-country competition at the 2008 Olympic Games was a success, with careful planning and course design, the weather, and a dollop of luck combining to produce a four-hour contest with no "traffic accident" horrors, no exhausted horses or overcome riders, and no major incidents to tarnish the sport's image.

The bad news--at least if you're an American--is that it wasn't the U.S. squad's best day. (Read more about the results of the cross-country competition.)  

Course Designer: No Surprises

Although all of the riders garnered time penalties, course designer Michael Etherington-Smith said he never expected any competitors to make the eight-minute allowed time. The formula for calculating allowed time is a standard one--course distance divided by prescribed rate of speed (at a four-star event, 570 meters per minute)--that doesn't account for factors such as the twisty-turny nature of this shortened Olympic course.

"I've heard from the eventing community that we've experienced a level of dressage and cross-country riding that exceeds anything we have seen before. I think our sport took a huge step forward [today]." –FEI President Princess Haya
August 11 was a relatively comfortable day at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Beas River Country Club, site of the cross-country course. During the competition, which commenced at 8:00 a.m. and finished at noon, temperatures ranged from about 77 to 82°F with humidity in the 80-90% range. The rain held off until about the last half of the morning and grew ever steadier, although it was not a downpour by Hong Kong standards. Constant cloud cover kept a lid on the heat.

The trickiest fence of the day proved to be 27 and 28, the Pagodas, two angled post-and-brush uprights flanked by narrow ditches whose direct route was the undoing of several riders, particularly those on course early in the day. By the last hour of competition, observation and steady rain prompted most to opt for the long route: jump 27, make a tight right-hand circle, and jump 28. Etherington-Smith was unapologetic. "One of the biggest challenges for course designers is how to finish a course," he explained. "You need to keep the riders paying attention without overtaxing the horses. That's why there were no big spread fences" late in the course.

Technical "questions," as eventers call cross-country jumping challenges, make riders think but don't actually demand great physical efforts from the horses.

Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) president Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, who attended the post-competition press conference, said: "I've heard from the eventing community that we've experienced a level of dressage and cross-country riding that exceeds anything we have seen before. I think our sport took a huge step forward (today)."

For the future of the sport, "there was no other option than to have the result we had today."

Don't miss the Olympic Equestrian blog by award-winning equestrian journalist Jennifer Bryant. She will be giving us behind-the-scenes looks at what's happening at the Olympic equestrian events.

About the Author

Jennifer O. Bryant

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation's magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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