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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blame (Air) Canada

Here I am back home, feeling not only exhausted by my extra flying time (see story below) but also kind of like I never properly said goodbye to Hong Kong and the Olympics. Thanks to the misleading advice of an evil little man, Jenn Ward and I ended up in a mad dash to the airport the night before we were supposed to leave. I was yanked out of my peaceful nest at the university guesthouse; I didn’t even have time to check out, and you should see what the contents of my luggage looked like. I grabbed clothes, books and way too much paper from the competition (that I’m sure I will never need), and zipped it all willy-nilly into the bag. I don’t believe in ironing, but most of my stuff is too wrinkly even for me to wear without shame. I had these great plans to send off a final pre-departure blog, then make my way back to the venue one last time. I would sit in the empty press tribune and close my second Olympic experience with a quiet moment looking out at the stadium where I spent two incredible weeks. Instead, I spent my final hours in Hong Kong wandering the halls of the airport, waiting for the 5 am boarding call for my ‘long way round’ flight home.

A Week and a World Away

I find it hard to believe it’s just seven days since we all screamed ourselves hoarse for Eric and Hickstead as they took a final victory lap in the Olympic stadium. I know some of you are curious to hear what I think of the show jumping medals, so here you go. I have nothing but pride and admiration for the team, and for Eric in particular. I still find Ian somewhat media-phobic (though I am grateful to him for giving me a one-on-one while we rode the bus to a reception at the Canadian Consulate), but I have developed a new opinion about Eric’s occasional reluctance to give interviews. I can’t blame him for being reporter-shy, given the feeding frenzy I witnessed last week over his drug-shadowed past. I sent my gold medal story into the newspaper chain, and the editors not only traded in my “Storming to Victory” title (thanks Jenn) for a drug reference headline, they also added an opening paragraph which gave all the gory details that I had made a point of leaving out, since they had nothing to do with his winning the medal.
I agree with Eric when he says “the past is the past.” His problem was not motivated by cheating, it didn’t involve anyone’s welfare – human or equine – but his own, and darn it, it’s over. I know bad news sells stories, but Eric and Hickstead have earned their place in the history books. I for one don’t want to hear anything but joy for his shining gold medal, the first EVER individual gold for an Olympic equestrian.

Doping for Dummies

On the other hand, there are some nasty drug tales from Hong Kong that I think do need to be talked about. It just wouldn’t be the Olympics without a little doping scandal, would it? The show jumping bust this time hinges on the same drug, which is named for the chili pepper base that gives it hyper-sensitizing properties: Capsaicin. All was explained in the incredibly packed-with-bodies press conference the FEI held to break the bad news on the day of the individual jumping final. Of the 15 horses tested, 4 were positive – which leads to the question of what that number would have been if they had tested all 70+ horses. Capsaicin has a very short half-life in the horse’s bloodstream, and before now was believed to escape detection. But come on people! You knew you were going to be tested by the most stringent lab in the horse world, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s lab. It can’t be proven that the topical cream was put on the horses’ legs to make them not want to hit fences, but that’s where I’d put my money. Those crazy whale-killing Norwegians will now have to give up their historic bronze medal to another non-EU nation that prefers nibbling Toblerone over blubber: Switzerland.

The uncontested Booby Prize winner for bad handling of the doping scandal is Irish party animal Denis Lynch, who held his own press conference a couple of hours after the FEI was done. The despondent Denis didn’t talk much, but his vet sure did; he even brought a show-and-tell item: the guilty cream itself. The topper was when the vet went so far as to point out the label of the container, which said “contains Capsaicin. Will not test.” Hey Denis! How about those Sea Monkeys? You believe what it says on their label too?

Sad Courtney

How ironic that the Cat Stevens song on which Courtney King-Dye based her freestyle is filled with messages of pain and sadness. I also find it ironic that the USEF’s official statement on Mythilus’ positive drug test supports the suggestion by the rider and the team vet Rick Mitchell that they suspect the horse was exposed to the banned topical (yes, more cream) anti-inflammatory called Felbinac while he was being treated at the Hong Kong Jockey Club clinic. Ok, so let me get this straight: the Hong Kong Jockey Club drug testing lab found a banned substance that the horse was exposed to while in the care of the Hong Kong Jockey Club vet clinic? I’m in no position to question Courtney’s innocence – that is the FEI’s job – but I think I might have come up with a different scapegoat than a branch of the same institution that was responsible for detecting the drug.

News Flash: Air Canada Reconfirms Status As Worst Airline, Ever

Why on earth would I exchange an 11 hour nonstop flight for a 21 hour backtracking marathon? Because when last Friday’s typhoon grounded 400 flights in and out of Hong Kong, Canada’s proud national airline decided the best way to catch up would be to cancel their Vancouver flight two days later. If I had been booked on any other day, including typhoon day itself, I would have been taken care of, if a bit delayed. I am not alone of course; a whole bunch of other Canadians were expecting to sleep in their own beds on Sunday night too – most of whom faced extended stays in Hong Kong.
So, you wanna know how those maestros of customer service at AC (Air Crap) handled things? First of all, they didn’t bother notifying the 250 or so passengers that there was no plane waiting for them at the expected hour – or ever. I found out only because after successfully checking myself in online 24 hours before, and then attempting to do the same for Jenn Ward – so that I could enjoy a few more hours with my barfy-pants buddy – I wasn’t able to check her in. Hong Kong’s AC office was closed for the weekend (of course, why would they expect to get phone calls the day after a typhoon?) so I called Canada. “The reason you can’t check in is because the flight has just been cancelled,” said the loving, sympathetic agent. She then cooed soothingly: “I can’t rebook you until September 4th. I had a fit. She put me on perma-hold. I gave up and called again. Perma-hold again. This time the phone system killed my hopes and disconnected me. One more call. I was finally told we could fly home one day later via Shanghai. Oh Goodie.

This third, helpful agent told me the best way to make sure I got that re-booking was to go to the airport and change my ticket in person. I went immediately. When I arrived a little man in a suit sidled up to the counter where I was beginning my transaction, and asked if I wanted to go home on the nonstop YVR flight leaving that night, in 5 hours. He said there was a ‘very good possibility’ to make that flight. I put Jenn’s and my names on the standby list, and spent the next three hours doing a Hong Kong version of Trains, Planes and Automobiles. All to get back to the airport in time, be told to wait half an hour, and then – with some prodding of the check-in agents, who were doing their best to ignore us (and who are not AC employees but contractors that handle a long list of airlines) – find out that in fact every passenger had turned up and not one standby would get on. Another fit, but this time there were two of us, and we weren’t moving from that check in counter. After much rude and aggressive behaviour that I am not proud of, the gate agents caved and offered us seats on the 6 am flight to Toronto.

We spent a lovely night in the airport, kept company by a snoring sea of bodies. Is AC really the worst airline? I guess not, because they haven’t actually killed me; though they have made a commendable effort to do so with their food. As I flew back and forth over Canada, I saw an ad during the in-flight entertainment that boasted how proud AC is to fly Canada’s athletes to the Olympics. I guess they just meant one way.

I do still have a few more things to share, secrets such as which dressage rider chews gum in all her tests, who is the most eloquent speaker in Equine Canada, who is the victim of the Canadian Consulate’s undiplomatic moment, and details of Mariette’s 1:30 am tête-à-tête that caused such a scandal – and a talking-to from FEI 2nd Veep Chris Hodson. Tune in one more time for a final wrap up installment of the Hog Blog.

How did they get themselves from the dressage to the airport
without waking up?

Hello Kitty's Hong Kong cousin, Bye Bye Pony

Last chance to catch Olympic spirit through spending

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No Apologies, No Retractions

It has come to my attention that some people with an awful lot of time on their hands have been making disparaging remarks about my blog on at least one chat site (Chronicle Forums). What I have written in this blog and in the media (yes, I'm an accredited Olympic journalist; and just to set the record straight I am a freestyle designer, not a freestyle 'seller') is nothing more or less than my honest opinion, which I freely express as per the general 21st century belief that freedom of expression is an inalienable right. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. If I wanted that I wouldn't write what I write. If there is no dissent, there is no discussion. If there is no discussion, we can just forget about change.

To all you whiny little frown-faces who have preferred scandalized whisperings among yourselves to publicly sharing your thoughts, I invite you to click on the 'comment' option on my blog so that everyone can read what you have to say. And while you're at it, grab yourselves some balls and sign with your real names.

'The people who come and tell me how wonderful it was, I try to say thank you. But the people that tell me something was really wrong, I listen to.' (Joep Bartels, creator of the World Cup Dressage Final and organizer of the Global Dressage Forum)

NOTE: I have actually received a lot of positive feedback and helpful information from people who did not sign their names in comments – if you are one of them, please disregard the paragraph above. It is not meant for you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Canada Shares Your Joy, Eric

I am dead tired from all the extra writing the show jumping medals have brought my way, but just a quickie to let you know I am not finished blogging yet. I will have something up by Saturday with all the bits I have not managed to put into previous blogs.

And that's just the silver medal! Jenn Ward sports Eric's medal
at the all night celebrations after team silver

Eric announced that Hickstead's breeding career will begin this fall
- so far he looks ready for his new job

And the crowd went wild! Never knew there were so many
Canucks in the stands until this week

What's bigger news? Medal or typhoon?
Just glad I have some beer in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Okay All You Dressage Fiends, Here Is My Freestyle Blog

Anky, then Heike, then Steffen….Anky, then Steffen, then Heike…

Kerri McGregor has expressed in her blog the same sentiments that are rampant right now, both here and in cyberspace: that the chips didn’t fall quite where they should have in the individual competition. (Same ‘ol same ‘ol. If anyone is surprised, wake up!) Kerri suggests that perhaps if the sport were to adopt a policy of dropping the high and low scores for each competitor it would equalize things. It sounds like a sweet solution, and it’s been suggested by others already.

I’m afraid the problem is more complex than that. I’ve done it before, but just to be sure my conclusions are still correct, I just did a little analysis of the top five overall horses (both Speciale and FS) to see what difference it would make to the final results if we didn’t count the highest and lowest scores. Diddly squat. That’s what. It would have moved Steffen a bit closer to Heike, so that his fourth place would become agonizing instead of just disappointing. Other than that, the differences are really negligible. For every high score there is a low one, and they pretty much cancel each other out.

If what we suspect is true, if international judging is as sick as it seems, it isn’t just a couple of bad eggs that need to be thrown out. Something fundamental would need to be purged from the collective judging conscience. I still think the judges become giggling school girls when the sport’s two biggest stars head down centre line, but that’s not Anky’s or Isabell’s fault. They are just doing their best like everyone else. When I head to the Global Forum in October, I am going to make a serious effort to figure out what the hell it is that has to happen for this sport to improve its legitimacy. I suspect it’s honesty (come ON, just admit you are human and we can take it from there) and accountability, but please keep my comment a secret. I don’t want Mariette to get wind of it. I want it to be a surprise.

Ho Hum

Other than a couple of superb performances, I was let down last night. Maybe I’m becoming desensitized to freestyles like soldiers in war get desensitized to death. No, I don’t really believe that. I did still get goose bumps, just not enough of them. I was too nervous for Ashley and Berna to feel anything else during their rides. Ashley recovered brilliantly after the little mess at the start. For some reason – maybe it was because of that stupid 60 second thing they decided to do (they gave every rider exactly 60 seconds from the time they entered the stadium until the bell was rung – it’s the excuse I’ve heard for what happened to Solos Carex) – jury prez Riexinger would stand up and lean toward the bell, usually ringing it right when Brian decided he needed to announce something. Several riders didn’t hear it – or they looked at him, saw him standing and assumed they hadn’t heard it, even though he still hadn’t rung it.

There were a number of confusing moments for riders last night, but Ashley was the only one who went through the stress of hearing her music playing but not being able to enter because the well-trained and obedient gate girls hadn’t heard the bell. Another issue was that nearly everyone got ahead of their music, and of course I noticed it more with my clients than anyone else. No Berna, don’t walk during your trot music! Ashley, just hang on one more stride to start the ones! Aw crap! All that waiting screwed up Poppy’s brain and he had a mistake. Watching my clients at the Olympics sounds like fun, but it gave me palpitations.

So, highlights? For me number one was Hans Peter. I thought Nadine’s flower child music suited her to double goosebump standard, and HP really rode to his music. I loved the way he used “for every season, turn, turn, turn” for the pirouettes. Cool! Great arrangements and editing. Five stars.

Four stars to Steffen, and I think five is in the near future, maybe at Vegas next spring. He had very difficult choreography (in spite of what Riexinger said in his failed efforts to justify how Isabell could have beaten him), and to see such a talented but green horse try so hard for his rider was one of the more inspiring moments of the night. I thought I was going to hate his music when I read what a mish mash it was: Vangelis, Rolling Stones and Men Without Hats? How can that sound like it comes from the same radio station? But it was all arranged (hats off, Terry Gallo) and played by the same group of musicians in Memphis; so even though we jumped from new age to bad-boy rock to androgynous eighties, it worked. It really suited the horse too.

I’m digging deep to find a third favourite here. Bonaparte was a Very Good Boy for Heike, but her surfer medley leaves me tepid. Pink piaffe machine Balagur looked tired to his tired old Broadway hits. I find Isabell’s music puzzling because it really never has a beat that does a thing for Satchmo’s gaits, and I hate that she caved to the judges when they told her that her March With Me was too risky with the vocals – these days just about everyone has vocals creeping in somewhere. I don’t envy Anky’s job with her music. The transitions for movements like the tempi changes are so subtle as to be almost nonexistent. I admire the heck out of Wibi the wunder-composer, but there is some magic missing from that one for me.


My very least favourite freestyles were a couple of the early Scandinavians. Elevator and ice cream truck are descriptors that come to mind when I think of their syntho-pop programs. I recognized some of the songs but I failed to place them because they sounded so unlike the originals. Not that it’s a bad thing to have a cool and different arrangement of a familiar song, but it shouldn’t sound like it was done on a computer using the keyboard for piano keys. A word of advice for those whose scores actually dipped below what they got in the Speciale – don’t put things in your choreography that diminish the quality of your performance. No one likes dressage to look labored or impossible. Well, except maybe for five ‘O’judges who gave Satchmo two sevens, two eights and a six point five for harmony.

Tune in Tomorrow

I have to go now and try to make Capri pants look fancy for my dinner with writer buddies at Aqua. I have a long list of goodies that I didn’t get into today’s installment: more dressage, more jumpers, more photos, a new victim and yes – more Mariette. Hang on Bob, my high-five to the organizers for putting on the best horse show EVER is coming tomorrow too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Individual Judge Marks are There!

Hi everyone. Please fret no longer - the individual judge marks are there - just click on the (+) beside the rider's name and the marks for him or her will expand. And I know you are all dying to see the marks from the freestyle tonight. They are at:

Pay extra close attention to Isabell's marks and Steffen's. I'll be saying lots about that and more judging shenanigans tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Our Medal Drought Is Over!

OK, I am totally over-stimulated. Last night our media-phobic show jumpers won the first medal in that discipline since Elder, Day and Gayford took gold in Mexico City, 1968. I wrote my very first newspaper article as a result ( and today I have to persuade Ian to talk to me so I can put some quotes into the profile that I’ve been asked to write for Wednesday’s paper. I should get a chance to corner him on the bus on the way to the Canadian Consulate Reception to which I’ve been invited this afternoon. I will leave the reception by six pm so that I’m sure not to miss Ashley ride her freestyle, followed shortly afterward by Berna.

I have to keep detailed notes on the action tonight so that I can post a story tomorrow on as well as give my increasingly insatiable blog audience some new delights about the judging (that bitting article for the October issue is coming Amy, I promise!). And finally, I am being flooded with high-five messages from all kinds of readers – judges, trainers, editors, friends and complete strangers (yes I’ll be your new BFF!), who have made writing this blog one of the most exciting things I’ve ever put my name to. If it all gets any more fun I might suffer the same fate as the people who die in that Monty Python sketch about the world’s funniest joke.

But no joke – seriously everyone, thanks for emailing and posting comments on the blog. One helpful person has pointed out that the judges’ individual marks are indeed available on the website. I tried to find it by going to the site and following links, but the brain of whoever created the Olympic website doesn’t work the way mine does, so I gave up and used my old friend Google. Here is the link to the (very special) Speciale marks:

And while I’m sending you to virtual places, here are a couple more links. My profile of Ashley should be up on as soon as a certain photographer gets around to sending photos to accompany it, but in the meantime you can read about my favourite youngster of the Games, Dutch eventer Tim Lips. Cute as a button but make no mistake.
He is SERIOUS about his sport.

While I was erroneously looking for an article written by a Daily Telegraph writer on the Guardian’s website, I stumbled across this page with photos of athletes caught in strange and compromising positions – some of them are pretty awesome.
Number 22 is from the cross country course.

I hate to admit that I wished someone would make a mistake, and I hate even more to come to terms with the fact that I really did feel that way. But while I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for just one more rider to score below Ashley so that she would be fifteenth and not sixteenth and out of the freestyle (it was Nadine Capellmann who finally came through), I must confess I did kind of stare at the horses’ legs, hoping they would land out of order in the tempi changes…and last night in the show jumping, how could I not hope that Laura Kraut would take just one little rail so that Canada could win gold? How does a person who professes to be a good sport and a fan of excellence above and beyond personal biases reconcile those natural human urges? Feel free to post advice in a comment to this blog.

Actually, it was so amazing that Canada won a medal at all with a three-rider team last night, that I must admit my feelings of elation far exceeded the small disappointment that the colour of the medal was silver. And the Americans earned it, after all. McLain and his big thighs on the homely but honourable Sapphire; Laura and the shooting star whose name I just love, nine year old Cedric; Will Simpson living a moment he will never forget in his first Olympics; and Beezie, who might describe winning Olympic gold as ‘nice’ because she is so outwardly lacking in personality.

I don’t need to talk about Jill’s Darkest Hour any more, because she had such a bright hour last night. She did admit that her bad round of the day before invaded her dreams and every waking moment until her redemption. But as she said to someone, she put the ‘Special’ back in Special Ed.

Four means death – that clever, clever Jenn Ward made the connection with the unlucky fences on course over the past two nights. In the first round of team jumping, the water at number 4 caused so many problems that Leopoldo was pretty roundly chewed out by riders for making a poor choice in his course design. In the second round it was number four again that caused grief: a dragon plank vertical with inverted cups. When I pointed out the coincidence to Jenn, she coolly remarked that four is the unluckiest number in Chinese culture because it sounds like the word for death. Leopoldo, you crafty devil.

It was, however, round three and not four that spelled the end of Patrick Lam’s Olympic moment. He became like a gauge that measured the increasing difficulty and size of the courses: clear on day one, a couple of rails on day two, and pick-up-sticks on day three. But he did wake up the crowds, and they seem to be staying both until the end of the night and more-or-less awake.

Weather or Not

The reason I haven’t been writing about the weather is because I’m thankfully not short of more interesting material and because there is nothing to report. I stopped looking at the forecast days ago – in spite of all the hoop-la, it isn’t any more reliable than the weather forecast for Vancouver, and it doesn’t affect what I wear anyway. Either I’ll be hot and sweaty or hot and wet with a mixture of rain and sweat. The humidity has dipped to a positively desert-like 60% after the first days of 98%, but riders are still commenting that their horses tire more easily than they would normally.

Pachelbel Keeps Going, and Going, and Going

Thank goodness the dressage riders are supplying the soundtrack for the competition tonight. Ali Buchanan has been listening to Mariette’s musical highlights for far longer than I have – he says that they were playing constantly on the sound system for the entire week of training before the competition started. “It just goes on, and on, and on, and on,” he said with a mixture of resignation and desperation.

Protest? What Protest?

Due to popular demand, I will continue telling Mariette stories for as long as she supplies them, which she has obligingly done pretty constantly so far. Amazing how front line she is, considering she’s just the TD. Not one jury member has been to a press conference yet. So, you know that game where someone whispers something into the ear of the person next to them, and then that person turns to the next person and so on and by the end what the last person heard only faintly resembles what the first person said? Just so with the protest-that-never-was from the Swedish dressage team. Now, I SAW something happen. I SAW Solos Carex spook badly when the bell was rung right in his ear as Tinne rode past the C judging pagoda. I also SAW him break into a canter as she tracked right at C, and I SAW the substandard first part of her test. The grapevine story was that Fouarges knocked his chair over when he went to sit down after standing to receive Tinne’s salute. I don’t know about that, because I didn’t SEE it.

When someone in the press conference after team medals asked Mariette about the protest, she smiled that benign smile of hers and replied that there was no protest. The questioner didn’t let her off the hook so easily, and asked her to explain what the protest would have been about. Mariette then gave some story about ‘one of the Swedish riders’ being distracted by a cable that was hanging out of the judge’s booth (huh?) and that she felt it compromised concentration (her own, not the horse’s). The main concern was getting into the Speciale though, so when she made the cut, the protest about the cable was dropped. So was Mariette at the end of the whisper line or were we?

More Boring Dressage Analysis

Some of you may want to skip tomorrow’s blog, though I know there are an awful lot of you out there who will tune in. I will do my very best not to disappoint, that is if I don’t die first from accidentally eating one of the packets of desiccant they put right in with packaged food here. Or from having too much fun.

Full moon causes judges to go squirrelly

Sweatin' yet, Ian?

We aren't dancing until the stands are full!

Healthy diet goes to hell in Hong Kong - I bought them, but I haven't been eating them.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Moon is Full and the Judges are Howling

(Warning: this blog contains material that may be boring to people who don’t have a keen interest in judging gaffes)

You know, I really thought that the right teams won the right medals the other night, and I was almost lulled into thinking that the judges were only a teeny bit in extra love or extra hate with a few horses. But things went sideways in the Grand Prix Speciale. I could swear they all lose their marbles when Anky or Isabell come in the ring. Here is what I saw, and here is what the judges seem to have seen:

Anky in the Grand Prix – she rode a fairly careful test (she said Salinero was very hot and excitable, so she was conservative), but it was clean, and the passage and piaffe to me looked more like the way they should, not so much ‘cat on a hot tin roof’ as they can be. Score of 74.750%.

Anky in the Grand Prix Speciale – according to Anky afterwards, Salinero has shown himself to be a horse that isn’t affected by heat or humidity, and he was every bit as edgy as in the team test. But this time she was going for individual glory, so there was nothing to do but give ‘er. The price she paid was that he broke into canter in the half pass left, got a very high croup (really almost a little buck) at the start of the ones on centre line, and I could have sworn I saw a mistake in the twos. In all the extended trots Salinero was visibly shorter on the left hind – something I didn’t really notice in the GP. So how did her score creep up to 74.96%, above the first test? She received four fours and a three for the half pass; three sevens and two eights for the ones on centre line (one of the eights coming from B – I’m sorry Mr. Mandi (HUN) but that bouncing bum was really obvious from the side); three sevens and two sixes for the twos, which I guess could be interpreted as the judges saying ‘there was a mistake but it was just a little one’. A little mistake that might get a bit more of a frown if it had been another horse. It’s not that I think Anky shouldn’t have been one of the top two – I just don’t see how that test could score as well as the Grand Prix, never mind surpass it.

Isabell in the GP – she did a really great test I think, other than one enthusiastic kick out in the first piaffe. It was a BIG kick, but the judges forgave their favourite little Satchmo, giving him three sixes and two fives. That’s pretty kind of them. 76.417% and a well deserved win, even though he should have been penalized more for that kick (three sevens and two eights for submission).

Isabell in the Speciale – It wasn’t just the judges that went sideways last night. Satchmo did too, right after going up, and right before going backwards – almost to the fence at C. It happened when he was asked for the piaffe at G. Isabell was calling it a spook and saying she didn’t know what caused it, but that weren’t no spook, Isabell. That was Satchmo giving you the finger. So how did the judges react? For the piaffe, three ones and two twos. And for the transitions in and out? Two zeroes (she wisely decided to keep moving forward once she got him actually going again), two twos…and what did Olympic judging virgin Gary Rockwell give her? I dare you to guess, because you can’t. A SIX! Gary, for heaven’s sake! You’ve been the generous judge for the most part at this competition, and bless you for that. But giving a six for something that wasn’t executed (‘transitions from collected walk to piaffe and from piaffe to passage)? That is just wacked. Satchmo also got an across-the-board six for submission in the collectives. Six is awfully kind, isn’t it? Six means ‘not great, but not bad’. I’d like to know how many of those judges would be willing to ride him after witnessing that little stunt.

I don’t know how I feel about Isabell getting 75.2% and the win, given that Anky had some mistakes of her own, though nothing nearly so insubordinate. On the other hand, Satchmo was really brilliant in every other respect, so maybe the win was right. Oh, I don’t don’t know! It’s fun to make fun of the judges, but they do have a tough row to hoe.

If you are wondering how on earth I am getting my hands on the individual marks by the way, they are available on the internal Olympic network. Not on the internet, mind you – so the transparency is limited to those few journalists who care enough about the minutiae of the sport (that would be me) to obtain and analyze them.

More things that make you go Hmmm

So who wins the prize for greatest disparity? I think it’s fair to say that Gotthilf Reixinger (GER) doesn’t like Courtney and Mythilus, and Gary Rockwell (USA) does. Gary had her third in the Speciale on 72.8% (that IS generous Gary), and Reixinger put her out of the freestyle, 18th on 67.4%. Emma Hindle wins second prize: Reixinger put her 12th, Furuoka (JPN) would have liked her to be fourth, well ahead of Ravel.

Speaking of Ravel, Steffen said after the Speciale that he would like to “dedicate this ride to Debbie”. Gag me. I felt so sorry for Debbie after the Grand Prix test that I couldn’t bring myself to go to the mixed zone to hear her comments, much less ask her any questions. I only saw the last bit of her test, but what I did see was truly bizarre. She had the strangest pirouettes, and her last extended trot was more of a ‘fluffy passage trot’. I think people should just kind of shut up about whether Brentina was lame or not, and let’s just ignore that Dutch snuggle bunny Fouarges, who has been quoted (much to Debbie’s publicly expressed horror) as saying she should have been ashamed of herself to even go in the ring. Let’s just let it go. Brentina was not tortured, and Debbie is not an irresponsible horse woman. But Steffen dedicating his ride to her? That’s just sappy.

Where Is Stephen Clarke When We Need Him?

The scores were by and large much lower here than in Aachen two years ago. The judges seemed a bit grumpy (except for Gary) but I think the three-per-team thing also dragged the standard down – yes, it’s more global Mariette, but do we really want 15 out of 45 competitors to finish below the FEI’s own minimum certificate of capability score? The same was expressed pretty strongly by many riders this week, especially those from the stronger nations. 65.75% was enough to make the Speciale at these Olympics. Canada would not even have accepted that mark as a qualifying score for the team. Which leads me to my next point.

Jacqui Makes Sense

After she and Sam performed what may have been the best Grand Prix I’ve ever seen them do, Jacqui was very happy with her horse, and somewhat less so with her score. “That was the kind of test that got me here,” she said. So why did the judges give her 68% in Florida and 63% in the Olympics? Shouldn’t the measuring stick be the same? It’s the same test in the same 20x60 rectangle, after all. Maybe Dick Pound was right when he said in his report on the selection dispute that there is anecdotal evidence to suggest it’s easier to get scores in North America than elsewhere (if you want to read Dick’s two scathing reports on the Canadian team selection protests, go to ).

My Favourite Ponies

On a much lighter note, I am just so darned proud of Vincent and Poppy for making it into the freestyle, and in awe of Berna’s and Ashley’s composure and finesse. They are my faves for very personal reasons, but a few other horses have captured my heart too. We are missing a shooting star at this championship – there is nothing like Matine to make us all swoon. All the same, there have been some exciting pairs worth mentioning.

Australian Hayley Beresford is definitely one to watch for the future with her wonderful Lusitano, Relampago. In spite of too many little mistakes in the Speciale, I really enjoyed watching them and I hope to see them again soon.

And who can’t love that ex-police horse from Russia, the Orlov Trotter stallion Balagur, now the oldest horse in the Olympics at 18? He’s been shaved so close he’s pink (he is kind of an Albino), but he is just so wonderfully elastic and into his job. What a passage and piaffe tour he has!

I also really liked seeing Polish rider Michal Rapcewicz in such harmony with his cute little bay, Randon. Some pairs just make us want to go home and do it ourselves, and this was one of them.

Steffen Peters is an absolute master, and getting young Ravel so confident just five months after his first Grand Prix is a feat few could achieve.

If you were totally bored and irritated by the content of this blog, please come back tomorrow. I will spare you any more gory details of dressage, and share insight into Jill’s Darkest Hour, as well as why Ali Buchanan has suffered more than anyone at the hands of Mariette’s music selections.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Computer Catches Avian Flu, Recovers after Chinese Doctor Performs Surgery

If you are wondering why there was a gap in my missives, it’s because I spent all of Thursday dealing with a brand new computer virus (I wasn’t downloading porn, I swear!), which cost me a day’s work and probably ten years of my life. I’m just joking about the bird flu, though I did see a TV commercial the other night advising people how not to catch it themselves (hint: don’t visit a chicken farm in China). I could have picked up this virus anywhere. My hero at the guest house – the one who wrote me Chinese instructions to give to the taxi drivers so that I would not have to take two taxis to get home – arranged for a sunny dispositioned little nerd to spend two hours in my room messing with my most valued possession. Now I know why they call them Trojan horses and worms. It was as though my computer had been possessed by the devil. The exorcism was a success, and here I am!

They Woke Up!!!!!

So now I know what it takes to get Hong Kongers excited – it’s not rocket science– they just want to cheer for one of their own. Patrick Lam did a commendable job for a clear round in the show jumping qualifier. The crowd reacted as though a hypnotist had just snapped his fingers to awaken them. Suddenly they were more like Germans at Aachen when a German wins gold, instead of a bunch of disappointed sleepy-heads. And finally Canada has a reason for hope; we finally won a medal in women’s wrestling – go big white girls! And-and-and-and, our show jumpers did great in the first qualifier. There is a long road ahead, but Hickstead sure looked wicked good. He is one of my favourite horses, even if his pilot isn’t so media-friendly. My other favourite is that flying teddy bear Cumano, who looked like he was never going to stop ascending. What a rocket ship.

There were many $$ millions $$ of horse flesh in the show jumping last night – some well ridden, some on auto-pilot, a few trying to do their jobs in spite of their jockeys. I can’t remember who said it but one rider was so awful that the comment was that he was like an anchor. There were two drunk Canadians sitting in front of me – I went out to sit with the masses and got served sushi by my friends from England – when one of the many middle eastern riders was on course the uglier of the two (I’m sure they were from Ontario) slurred in a loud voice “now that’s gotta be a rich Jordanian!” Classy, classy Canucks.

Besides those top notch representatives of our proud nation, I’ve run into a few friends from home in the last few days, including Pia Fortmuller and her mom Dagmar, Jamie Welling and Grit High. I needed to get a quote from Grit to set the record straight about who was ultimately chosen for the eventing team. I found the gang in the stands but didn’t see Grit. I recognized Selena O’Hanlon and asked her if Grit was around. She replied that she didn’t know who that was. “She was only one of your selectors for the team,” I replied with perhaps just a tiny edge of irony.

What’s with….

…The South China Morning Post? They’ve stopped publishing photos of sleeping spectators and no reporter has used terms like ‘barriers’ and ‘hurdles’ for days. I’m afraid they are becoming knowledgeable about our sport, which is making them as boring as they accused the dressage of being.

…The dirty looking off-white sheepskins under so many dressage saddles, which I call dead terriers? If they must be used, surely they could be white or black for a big gig like the Olympics.

…Mikey G’s math? He calculated that the horses jumped every eight seconds on cross country, but when I divide 39 into 8 minutes I get 12.3. Mike when I buy you that beer I owe you I want to know.

…the giant judging pagoda booths? They are bigger than the average Hong Kong apartment. I’ve been told they are air conditioned. Gotta keep those judges’ brains nice and cool.

…the USEF site going down AGAIN earlier this week? Did no one tell IT that the Olympics are on?

…Brian O’Connor complaining on his blog that he sat on the bench while someone else announced the eventing show jumping? He did however do a ‘let’s get ready to rumble’ thing before the show jumping qualifier last night that utterly failed to get the crowd worked up into more than semi-consciousness.

…Hubertus Schmidt wearing face paint during the team dressage final? Hubertus, I had you pegged for the strong, silent type.

…Equine Canada’s verbose new CEO Akaash Maharaj dabbling in media relations? He was quoted in today’s jumper release that the team’s performance last night was met by ‘rapturous applause’ across Canada. My, what big ears you have!

Mysteries Solved

Here are some more tidbits to clear up a few things I’ve left dangling over the last couple of days:

1. Pachelbel’s Infernal Canon – it’s not Brian’s fault, he’s just playing the (not more than 3) CDs he was given. It’s my old pal Mariette who picked the music, or so I’ve been told by a reliable source. We are getting Pachelbel about ten times a night. One of the CDs must be that ‘twenty versions of Pachelbel’ CD someone once gave me for Christmas and that I didn’t even bother regifting – I just threw it out. The music that is gently palpating my ears right now for about the 30,000th time is the Olympic theme played on a piano. The tune is like a brain worm – I can’t shake the melody because it’s everywhere. I think I even heard it as the ring tone for a phone the other day. I’m beginning to suspect that the music is the reason everyone is sleeping instead of spellbound. Even I got to yawning in the early part of the GP Speciale tonight; and as those who know me will attest, I can take a lot of dressage before I nod off.

2. No individual movement scoring – over to Mariette again, whom I asked the question in the press conference the other night. This time she had a ‘real’ answer for me and not just a mumble about ‘not available’. She says there is an FEI rule (or is it an IOC rule?) that states for Olympics a running score must be displayed. She went on to say that there is another rule that individual movement marks can be displayed only if none of the judges can see it (I think they need to let Gary Rockwell see, but more on that tomorrow). So if any of you at home have some time on your hands and you have a penchant for splitting hairs, please go on the FEI website for me and see if you can find the rules about scoreboards at the Olympics.

3. Who is to blame for the lack of Thoroughbreds on the eventing roster, and also for Orion being identified as Danish (he’s by Jazz for crap’s sake) – BOCOG controls the processing of information, but the FEI is responsible for making sure what BOCOG receives is accurate. Gotta love those big bureaucratic organizations.

4. How Brian Sosby walked on water – ok, I don’t actually know how the USEF’s happy blogger managed to do that. All I know is that in his very (and I mean very) detailed account of his trip to the cross country on Monday, he said that he walked from his hotel ‘in downtown Hong Kong’ to East Tsim Sha Tsui station, which is actually across the harbour in Kowloon. I’m really sorry you lost your hat, Brian.
Miso Proud!

Berna finished sixth in the Speciale, and Ashley finished fifteenth, just making it into the freestyle on Tuesday. Ashley found me during a break and we did a little dance that looked like drunk Greeks at a wedding, but hey, it’s exciting!

The judges finally started firing on all five controversial cylinders in the Speciale tonight, but you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to read about it. It’s 1:30 am and I have to go heat up my frozen wontons.

Maybe it's the weather....or the music

Sam Lam or Sasquatch?

What the....? What do you mean the jumping isn't in Beijing? (Mac Cone looking for the jumps)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

They’re Still Bo-o-red!

I guess the added excitement of passage, piaffe and tempi changes is pretty much lost on an audience whose only experience of horses involves gambling and great speed. Insight was offered today from Jennifer Anstey. “This started out as war horses, and now they can’t take the noise of a camera shutter?” Page 3 of the South China Morning Post has become my late night reading when I get back to the guest house and go down to the common room to use the microwave and warm up some post-midnight frozen Chinese delights. Today’s paper pointed out that one of the unpleasantries of dressage for the locals is that they aren’t allowed to cheer along. The eventing show jumping was a brief oasis in the dressage desert, though according to one reporter it was now too noisy: “there was even that ridiculous ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” chant that Australians embarrass themselves with at big sports events.” I agree, it’s silly; but what can you expect from people who share their homeland with kangaroos and wombats?

Anyhoo, back to yawns and steadily emptying stands for the team dressage. They didn’t even stay for the sole Chinese entry, the first Chinese dressage rider ever to compete at the Olympics (I know I said I wouldn’t use the ‘O’ word, but as long as I don’t mention that little mountain nation whose name starts with a ‘T’ I think I’m safe). Daphne Bramham reports that her blog on the boredom of dressage in Hong Kong “topped the hit list for The Sun”. Being a certified (and certifiable) fan of the sport, I wasn’t bored, and if you were watching at home I don’t expect you were either. But the caliber of performances? More on that tomorrow.

Lucky 13, Not – Dressage Day 1, August 13th

It might be a lucky number in China, but it sure didn’t bring Canada any breaks. Our underwhelming performances have sadly continued into the dressage. Leslie Reid was worried about the Jumbo-tron, and it turns out she had good reason. Orion started the spook-fest before he even got through the gate at A; and as Leslie said later, when the judges see that already outside the ring, you are dead before you are born. Hm, a new term perhaps: Stillborn dressage test. It sure is a long way to come for 7 disappointing minutes…never mind. Leslie’s strong chin was as strong as ever when we talked at the end of the evening. It’s the Olympics, but it isn’t life or death.

I’d love to see Fouarge in the press conference so I can ask him what on earth moved him to ring the bell on Tinne Silfven from Sweden just as she and Solos Carex passed between C and his booth. The horse understandably spooked badly, and when Tinne tracked right at C after her entry, he broke into a canter. As I watched the test I wondered how she was managing to remember to ride her horse when thoughts of murder must have been justifiably racing through her mind. And speaking of Solos Carex, the IOC let a bit of verboten advertising slip by their censors. All those horses with double-barreled sponsor-acknowledging names are stripped to their essences here: Sunrise, Briar and Salinero, for example. But Carex’s sponsor managed to sneak onto the day sheets.

Sorry to disappoint, but if we get can get past Fouarge acting like a dick to the Swedes, there isn’t much else to report vis-à-vis the judging. Other than feeling personally affronted about Leslie’s score (and I am the last one to say I’m being objective in her case), the judges didn’t do anything too wacky. In fact, the Dutch and German judges – Fouarge and Reixinger – had the exact same first placed score for Heike Kemmer, and identical scores for second placed – and highly elated – Emma Hindle of Great Britain. There was a wee bit of disagreement between them when it came to Imke, however. Fouarges tied her with Emma, but Reixinger put her seventh, behind her own countryman Hans Peter.

Tomorrow is likely to be more interesting, though it’s hard to be really blog-worthy with my comments when the individual movement by movement scores ARE NOT AVAILABLE on the big screen. Four years ago in Athens, it was the same – a stupid, average percentage-so-far that confuses the most knowledgeable spectator and will utterly baffle innocents like the Hong Kongers. I really hope Mariette shows up at the press conference so that I can ask her why there are no live scores by movement. Her excuse last time was that it wasn’t available – but somehow in Athens, as here, it was used for the eventing dressage. I wonder what her story will be this time.

That’s the Spirit, Boys!

Apparently Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze have decided that the media is far beneath their notice, never mind their manners. At the request of Swedish TV, French radio and numerous print journalists from around the world, Jenn Ward (in her thankless role as volunteer press attaché) set up a press conference for tonight at 6 pm, after getting the thumbs up from Ian and Eric that it was a convenient time for them. I can’t imagine why there was so much interest in those two. Ian is only tying the world record for Olympic Games appearances, and Eric has been touted as a medal favourite in numerous places, including that bikini specialist Sports Illustrated. Not only did the boys not turn up, they couldn’t even bring themselves to pick up a phone and call Jenn to say they were passing on their play date with the media. I bet their sponsors would be pleased to hear that free publicity was brushed off like so many flakes of dandruff.

Big White Girl

My ankles are swollen. I am pretty sure I couldn’t get my riding boots on right now, but it certainly isn’t for lack of exercise. Walk, walk, walk. I wish Hong Kongers were bigger so that I don’t feel like such a giant gwilo around so many slender little people. At least I’m not as big as some of the other gwilo, and I’m not the only one to discover sponginess in the lower extremities.

Tune in to this station tomorrow for my commentary on the team dressage finals (I can’t keep a secret, the Germans won again). I will also share other secrets, such as how USEF’s Brian Sosby walked on water, and what I’m going to do to Brian O’Connor if I find out that he’s responsible for Pachelbel’s Canon playing at least 30 times over the past two days in the stadium.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mom! I’m having fun!

Based on the conversation I had with my mother on Skype today (with help from my husband – the technology just about blew her mind), I’m a little worried some of you are getting the wrong impression of the quality of experience here. My mom thought I was frustrated and depressed by the Canadian result. Well, actually I am. But that accounts for just one part of the experience – the rest is just awesome. Good sport is good sport, no matter who wins. The eventing competition was probably the highest caliber we’ve ever seen in that discipline. There were many, many memorable performances and wonderful horses, such as the huge, and huger hearted McInlaigh, who won individual silver after almost getting spun at the jog yesterday. Sure I’m here for Canada, but when they don’t manage to fill my cup with happiness, I just get it elsewhere.

Feels like 43

That’s what the Weather Network says about the 31 degrees it currently shows on the mercury here at noon. Make no mistake; it’s hot, and it’s humid. I hate air conditioning but I’m using it almost constantly in my room. It’s the strangest thing if I wake up in the middle of the night. The fan of the A/C runs constantly, which is what heaters in hotels in Alberta do when I’m there every February. So sometimes when I awake, I’m not sure if I’m too hot because the heat is too high (Alberta) or if I’m too hot because the A/C is too low (Hong Kong). Right now I have the A/C switched off for a little while to take a break from the white noise. Soon I’ll have to turn it back on because my fingers are starting to stick to the keys, and I’m starting to feel like having a beer even though I just finished my morning coffee.

Not What We had Hoped For

One reason Rio was so great last year was because Canada did well in all three disciplines. I’m sorry to say that our eventing team result has fallen far short of expectations here. I am scratching my head because I would have thought we could pull off one clear round in the show jumping, or at least a four faulter. We were the ONLY team not to do that last night. To quote the 22 year old Dutch rider Tim Lips, who proved that youth and inexperience are not impossible to overcome (he finished 15th), “it’s a good course, not too big and with easy lines. I think there will be a lot of clear rounds.” Even the two teams that finished behind us – Brazil with only three riders and France with two – managed to squeak out a clear round or two. Of course, Laura Kraut was helping the US riders on the course walk, and the individual gold medalist Hinrich Romeike (more on him in a moment) had his personal show jumping coach fly in from Deutschland yesterday morning.

Why, oh why, are the Canadian eventers not getting help in dressage and show jumping from the best in those disciplines? Goodness knows we have people in our own country who could be called upon. The overall quality of performances by our team here was better than in Athens, and we can’t forget that it was a young, inexperienced group. The trouble is, we are not getting better fast enough. The rest of the world is not standing still; everyone else is also improving. I know I shouldn’t be whining when I don’t have a solution to offer or a couple million bucks to throw at athlete development and horse shopping sprees. But the first step to finding a solution is identifying the problem…

A Lovable German

My heart had already melted for Hinrich the individual gold medalist in the post-cross country press conference, because he almost cried talking about how great his horse is. He was the undisputed star of the conference after the medal ceremonies; no one even bothered to ask the other Germans questions, in spite of the fact that they have won team gold and vindicated themselves after it was snatched away by Bettina’s extra circle four years ago. But Hinrich is just so sweet and funny and humble and…I have to say it, un-Germanic. The man is a dentist for goodness’ sake – an amateur (rider, not dentist). He rides in the evenings after work. I mean, how can you not love a guy who wins double gold at the Olympics and says, “I don’t want to get philosophical. When you do this well you just go and party.”

I wish Hinrich was my dentist. I’d go a lot more often.

I noticed that even though the stands were about three quarters full for the team show jumping round, they had emptied considerably after the one hour break that preceded the top 25 second round. Jenn Ward, always on top of things, knew the reason. “An hour break? What are they supposed to do? They can’t all get into the souvenir shop!” I thought I saw some protesters in the stands early in the evening, but it was just Germans trying to do the wave. The loudest noise around me in the press tribune (besides the constant yakking of two Americans nearby) was the whirring of about 50 camera shutters all taking the exact same shots from the exact same place at the exact same time. There were no photo positions inside the stadium, so most of them were sitting down in front of me in the stands. I have to say I agree with my husband Jan when he wonders why there is a need for so many people to take the same pictures.

No Thoroughbreds in Eventing?

It seems that those who predicted that the short format would spell the end of Thoroughbreds in the sport were right. Breed information is displayed on the start lists, and there was not a single Thoroughbred identified out of more than 70 horses. However, an awful lot of the 20 horses whose breeds were identified as ‘not listed’ looked suspiciously like Thoroughbreds. I happen to know for a fact that Poggio II, Madison Park and Livewire are all registered Thoroughbreds. I’m sure that their riders and owners are not ashamed of that fact, so I don’t understand why the FEI decided that Thoroughbreds are not worthy of identification as such. The second most common bloodline after ‘not listed’ was Irish Sport Horses. Four out of five on the British and Irish teams, as well as three out of five of the Americans, are ISH. The FEI press release today pointed out that every last one of them made it through to the show jumping.

Far from the Madding Crowds

As the photo here attests, I have found myself a little bit of peace and quiet to come back to at the end of the day or night. The university guest house is just a five minute taxi ride from the venue (or two ten minute taxi rides and two circuits of the venue if I get a driver who doesn’t speak English). Actually, if I squint a little I can almost imagine that I’m in Hawaii. Except for all the Chinese restaurants. Okay, I swore to myself I wouldn’t talk about food because some bloggers talk about it just a little too much, but I’ll allow myself this: I might, just might, be getting tired of rice. And rice crackers. And rice noodles. I would like to eat a potato.

Check in tomorrow, following the first leg of team dressage. I will get my knives out and start sharpening them in preparation for my judging commentary.

Look! Just like any other tropical island!

Ok, there are just a few (dozen) skyscrapers too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hey Hong Kong, are you Interested Yet?

According to W. K. Lam, the big Kahuna of the equestrian events, there were more than 10,000 spectators at the Beas River venue for the cross country yesterday. Hm. Ok, well there were 18,000 tickets for sale and according to reports pre-games, they were sold out. So either someone bought and lost a lot of tickets, or too many locals read the snore-fest article in the Sunday paper and decided it would be more fun to go to work on Monday morning. Whatever. It was still awesome and I enjoyed being able to see all the tough complexes from the ropes whenever I wanted. There were lots of people, but it was no Badminton out there. It is an undeniable fact that the entire course was eminently jumpable. Refusals and falls were in a minority, and the ambulances – both human and equine – never moved. As Mike Etherington-Smith predicted, time was a huge factor.

What does it take to keep these people awake?
Snoozing at the cross country.

All Good or All Bad

Oh how fitting it was that Mark Todd was first on cross country. He really did make a four star course look like a schooling exercise – hasn’t lost his mojo, not one little bit. Mike Etherington-Smith’s creation delivered good or bad results more or less along national lines. Countries seemed to have a very good day or a very bad one. It would be fair to say that the USA, New Zealand and France were considered strong medal contenders going into this three-day-event, and all three countries suffered similar fates yesterday. Only three horses fell on course: Amy Tryon’s Poggio II (USA), then Andrew Nicholson’s Lord Killinghurst (NZL) and finally, the French team was dealt the final insult when their third member and last hope, Jean Renaud Adde and Haston d’Elpegere, fell at the innocuous fourth fence. At the other end of the success-o-meter, the Aussies brought home five clear rounds; both the Germans and British had four out of five.

And Canada? Well, fate saved something special for our keen young team. Kyle and Sandra had our hopes so high with clear rounds and lower than average time penalties (the closest anyone got to the time was the last Australian, Shane Rose, 23 seconds over the 8 minute limit). Then our two youngsters Selena and Sam had a pair of stops/runouts each. It was all on Mike to bring us the third clear round we needed. When Kingpin blew past the skinny second part of fence 9, Mike’s stirrup caught on the side of the jump and was ripped off the bar. The runout was unfortunate; the 30-40 seconds it took Mike to put his stirrup back on was a kick in the crotch. Canada is very unlikely to climb up out of ninth place tonight in the show jumping. We trail eighth placed Ireland by more than five rails. If Canada doesn’t finish in the top eight, equestrian sport risks losing its Sport Canada funding. WAAAAHHHHH! Don’t quit on us DOC, we are getting better, really we are!

Press Conferences Are Gay

So far the press conferences have been totally lame. Almost no one asks a question and when they do, it’s a stupid one. I loved the way Mike E. Smith took care of the queries that were beneath his dignity. A German journalist asked if it was true that some of the fake rocks that covered sprinklers and drains on the track had been moved at the last moment, forcing riders to do an early morning walk before their rides. “Nonsense,” was his reply, followed by a reiteration that he didn’t know who her source was but it was utter nonsense. An American writer then asked him why, if he knew the time would be impossible to make, he made the time so tight. His dry reply: “that’s a very simple question with a simple answer.” He then explained that if you take the standard cross country speed of 570 meters per minute and divide it into the length of the course, you get a number. That is the time.

Then we had the Lucinda and Clayton Show. The husband and wife that make up two fifths of the Australian team have pretty much been THE Australian team at press conferences. In fact, after the dressage, with Australia leading, they were the only two at the conference, even though another Aussie rider, Megan Jones, was in the top four after dressage. The Fredericks pair also coach China’s single entry, nineteen year old Alex Hua Tian, who made it only as far as fence 8 before parting company with his horse Chico. During the press conference post-cross country, the first question asked when the Aussies took the podium came from a Hong Kong reporter who wanted Clayton to comment on Alex’s performance. Before Clayton could answer, the question was shut down. “Questions for Australian team only” was the message from the militant mystery woman in charge of the conference. Great! Way to be nice to your host country.

Brian! It’s Soo-goy!

In his trademark style, Brian O’Connor has already begun mispronouncing names. New Zealand rider Heelan Tompkins really threw him for a loop. I think I heard three different pronunciations during her eight minute round, none of them correct. Her horse, Sugoi, became Sugio. At least he was consistent there. It was Sugio every time.

Chefs or Godfathers?

Our dressage team was arguably the best dressed at the jog, but photos posted on Ali Buchanan’s online album reveal a somewhat incongruous outfit for Ali himself. Sure, his tie matches the ladies’ tops, but the rest of his look is pure Russian Mafia. If you don’t believe me, you can see for yourself here.

Another dressage team has bitten the dust, with a second head-shake from the ground jury for Nilo Vo, Rogerio Clementino’s horse. For anyone who read my Pan Am blog from Rio last year, here are a couple of tidbits that will bring back fond memories. When he was rejected at the first jog, apparently Mariette (who is here in the role of TD) couldn’t scuttle fast enough over to the ground jury. But they stood fast and when Nilo Vo looked no better the next day, that was that. And guess who the chef d’equipe of the Brazilian dressage team is? Why that Godfather of them all, Salin Nigri – who has been quoted in the press as vehemently disagreeing with the ground jury’s conclusion on Rogerio’s horse.

Onto the Night Shift

Finally the early mornings are done. The cross country was the last competition to take place before 7 pm. There will now be some late nights – actually a lot of them. It doesn’t really cool down at night, and I don’t think there is much difference in the heat between 7 pm and 7 am. I’m a morning person, but 5 am is a bit more than even I enjoy, especially if I have to walk the 1.5 km from my guest house to the train station, where I either catch a train or a taxi. I’ll take the nights, thanks.

Jenn Ward shows off her Canadian team swag at the Panda jump.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

(Eventing) Dressage is boring, but we love the shopping!

I was initially both surprised and impressed that the stands were about two thirds full at 6:30 Saturday morning for the first leg of eventing dressage. When the stands began to empty mid-competition two hours later, I thought it was because it was getting hot. That is, until I saw the article on page three of the English language South China Sunday Morning Post which ran with a large photo of Hong Kongers fast asleep in the grand stands. It turns out people left because they were less than fascinated by what many at first thought was “warm up exercises” and were disappointed when it was announced that the competitor was now finished. “Deeply bored” is what one local was quoted as having said, but it wasn’t just the Hong Kongers who were tranquilized by what they saw. A man from New York, whose wife had “dragged” him to Hong Kong, had expected to see horse racing. “I have to say this is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. The article concludes with the statement that if spectators were bored with the dressage, they were revived with their visits to the souvenir shop. “This is where you can feel the Olympic atmosphere,” said one happy shopper.

The crowd’s lack of ability to grasp the finer points of dressage is not for lack of effort on the part of the Hong Kong organizers. Last night I saw a TV commercial in which all three disciplines were described for the benefit of potential spectators – and clearly ticket sales have been a great success locally (a good thing, since they were almost impossible to obtain abroad).

This morning, eventing dressage day two, the stands are about two thirds full – but the Sunday paper would have come out after most of these folks set out for the venue at 4 or 5 am. By about 9 am it’s hot enough that the stands are fluttering with day sheets doubling as fans. There has been a truly nasty TV camera at the C end of the ring that has bothered most of the horses. I will be very surprised if it is still there for the dressage in a couple of days. The other thing that has predictably caused some saucer eyes in the ring has been the jumbo screen in the corner. I saw Leslie Reid at the opening bash the other night, and she says that it’s worse when the screen shows cartoons (of the official Games mascots) or ads, where the images change quickly. The stadium is not very big, and the bottom of the screen is at horse’s eye level.

It may not have thrilled all the spectators, but there have been some stunning rides that nearly transcended the usual gap between ‘event’ dressage and ‘real’ dressage. Of course a couple of horses lost the plot completely out there – perhaps that was more entertaining to the crowds. Canada had a couple of really good results, including Selena O’Hanlon turning plenty of heads in her Canadian team debut and leading the team after the first phase. Mike Winter was disappointed that he made a couple of mistakes including a wrong lead in the canter depart (the other left, Kingpin) but his canter tour was great otherwise, and it’s gratifying to have two Canucks break the 50 mark (penalties, not percent!).

Tomorrow, the day of reckoning

Everyone, including the course designer Mike Etherington-Smith, predicts that time is going to be an enormous factor tomorrow on the cross country. The course is fabulously beautiful, with themes like pandas, dragons and pagodas marvelously represented by David Evans and his crew of builders. It occupies an awfully tight bit of real estate, though, and in some places when you look at the course it is cluttered and almost maze-like with obstacles and decorations. Mike Winter described the track as a “sea of ropes”, which will likely disappear once 18,000 spectators are packed along the lanes and around obstacles. There are two serious water complexes in the first half of the course, and as Sam Taylor says, “every third question is a line question.” The leader board will change a lot, with many teams and individuals mere time penalties apart from one another. Let’s hope they all get home in one piece. The forecast is calling for thunder storms this morning.

Dressage on the Way

We don’t know why the dressage jog was held two days earlier than it usually is (team test isn’t until Wednesday), but our three horses sailed through. The same can’t be said for a few others, including Beatriz Ferrer-Salat’s Faberge, who wasn’t even presented due to a flared up old injury. Spain will no longer compete as a team, but as two individuals. Brazilian history-maker Rogerio Clementino has to re-present Nilo Vo this morning. I heard a bit of a dressage funny from another journalist yesterday. The much-publicized spook of Satchmo at the jumbo screen during training apparently happened, coincidentally, at the moment that an image of Anky holding up a gold medal popped up.

Blame Canada

There have been some protesters here, but security is very on the ball. This morning one man tried to unfurl a banner but a blanket was thrown over him so quickly that no one saw what he was protesting about. One protester was caught with a Tibetan flag hidden under a Canadian flag. I guess the Canadian flag was chosen because as a nation we are famous for our political apathy.

Other Glitches

The poor French eventers just didn’t get a break. They’ve lost their two stars, and hopes of defending their title from Athens are pretty much dead. The USEF decided to do maintenance on their website yesterday, which was perhaps not the cleverest thing they could have done in the middle of the HOG. Poor Brian Sosby couldn’t post his effusively enthusiastic blog as a result.

Hello Kitty Meets Buddha

Yesterday I went to the island of Lantau with my sister Julie, who flew in from Japan to hang out with me for a few days. Back home, where we live a day’s drive from each other, we don’t manage to see each other more than once a year; but we had no trouble meeting up at a train station on the other side of the world. Lantau is the home of the world’s biggest outdoor, seated bronze Buddha (all three of those features are necessary for it to claim it’s ‘world’s biggest’ status). There are other bigger Buddhas elsewhere, but this one has extra height, being at the top of a 200-plus-stairs climb on a promontory. My friends know I’m no Buddhist, but I must admit I had some Zen moments (or perhaps it was the beer) looking at the glorious view from the Buddha’s feet.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the subway and trains already. Urban public transit is always a great way to see a cross section of the population – sometimes at closer quarters than strictly required or desired. Hong Kongers are pretty uninhibited people, and the trains are always buzzing with conversation - unlike subways in other cities where people read, sleep or stare blankly into the middle distance. Couples snuggle quite openly; there is almost a party atmosphere. The one thing I hate is not being able to speak the language; I’m not used to being completely ignorant of the local lingo. Many of the cab drivers don’t speak English, so I resort to a lot of pointing. It doesn’t always work, and I’ve taken more than one detour getting back to my digs at the university Guesthouse. People are just so darned hospitable and helpful here, though. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the friendliest place I’ve ever been.

Friday, August 8, 2008

When It Rains It Pours

Nothing in Hong Kong is done in half measures, including the rain. Holy cats and dogs does it come down! Canadians here who are used to serious winter storms and wind report that the typhoon the other day seemed rather tame compared to the dire warnings to stay away from windows and not leave the hotel – but then it wasn’t quite a full-on typhoon, either. No one has scoffed at the rain, however. If I were to walk out the door of my guest house right now without a rain coat, in about five seconds I would be as wet as if I’d fallen into a hot tub. Looks like everyone was all freaky about the wrong thing; it’s not the heat that will distinguish these games, it’s the biblical precipitation.

Nothing exciting to report about the flight over. The AC flight attendants were the usual tired old lifers, the food awful, and the movies worse. But my travel companion (Jenn Ward) didn’t barf on me, and I enjoyed meeting Pedro Cibulka (yes, THE Pedro from Spruce Meadows) and eventer Kyle Carter’s dad Gary, who periodically walked laps of the aisles to fend off thrombosis. We were fast tracked through accreditation and immigration by charming volunteers at the airport, and within two hours of landing, were enjoying a beer with our fellow journalists from around the world at a Welcome Reception in the media hotel. So far, so perfect. The only thing the riders seem to have complained about is the jumbo screen in the stadium, at which Satchmo and a few others have expressed varying degrees of horror.

On for today: the xc course walk (the course has apparently been shortened to under 4 km), eventers’ first vet inspection and opening ceremonies, which will be broadcast live for us in the Parade Ring at Sha Tin racecourse. And of course more parties thrown for us by our wonderful hosts. Canada has unfortunately drawn early in the order of go, as the fourth of 24 nations. I guess I really will have to be at the dressage at 0630 tomorrow.

Today’s blog-blog

Cam Cole at the Vancouver Sun wrote a great little piece on one of the fastest-disappearing items on Beijing menus; if you enjoy a little canine humour, look up the Beijing Bound page at the Sun’s website:

Daphne Bramham is staying way on top of the equestrian news on that blog as well, so it’s worth checking out.

Here are some photos of me showing off my Olympic spirit by modeling the Canadian uniform.

Flight to Beijing-$1500             Showing your Olympic pride
                                                                  by wearing your countries uniform....


Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Today I’m off to the great little city of Hong Kong! This may be my second OG, but I’m sure I wasn’t quite this excited before Athens – partly because I didn’t know last time how great it would be, and partly because the hype-hype-hype for Hong Kong has been impossible to ignore. If I see one more photo of horses being unloaded from a plane I’m going to scream.

Here are some things I can’t wait to see when I get to HK: those Canadian uniforms that weren’t, ahem, manufactured in Canada – especially the pants, which from the video I watched on youtube look like someone vomited on them after chili and strawberry Margaritas. It will be interesting to see who actually wears what have been described as pajama bottoms. Our horses, on the other hand, are happily sporting Canadian-made SnugRugz outfits.

I also can’t wait to see Mark Todd in the flesh, well what flesh the man has on his spare frame. After watching course builder Dave Evans carving dragons out of logs in March, I am eager to see the artistry in action, when I walk the cross country course on Friday, and then watch the world’s finest equine athletes jump it on Monday.

And of course I can’t wait for the dressage! What a race it’s going to be. I predict photo finishes for gold and silver in team and individual competition, as well as for individual bronze. Can’t wait to see Satchmo’s trot half-pass again (the goose bumps lasted days in Aachen), Balagur’s piaffe for the first time live, and Pop Art’s world’s-happiest-dressage-athlete way of going. For those of you who have read my past blogs from Rio and the Global Forum – fear not. I will still be putting my honest opinion out there when the scores start flying.

I am also just beside myself with anticipation at the likelihood that a couple of my very own freestyle creations will go under the bright lights in the freestyle final.

Some of my very favourite show jumping horses are going to be in HK, if they ever get to land that is. It wasn’t quite a typhoon that hit yesterday, but it was enough to keep some flights from arriving. 24 show jumping horses have apparently been quite literally receiving royal treatment at their impromptu stopover in Dubai – at the stables of Princess Haya’s husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. So far my flight looks undelayed on the YVR website and the weather has settled down enough that the eventers tested out the great drainage of the main arena last night with a show jumping practice.

Gotta fly now. Check in again tomorrow and I’ll have news from the other side of the Pacific.