presented by Gaitpost Magazine

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.

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