Wind: 0 mph
On Sunday, I went to my first-ever Olympic event – the second round of team and individual show certainty that it was well worth the wait.
As I traveled to the venue, Greenwich Park, London’s Olympic energy was palpable. Each rail station was packed with Olympic volunteers smiling, singing and wishing you a good morning. Central London, which is normally packed with tourists, feels empty, as the crowd has moved east where there are street fairs, big screens and pedestrian roads.
In the massive stadium in beautiful Greenwich Park, as the first individual rider came out of the pocket onto the perfectly groomed course of 16 brightly colored fantastically imagined and intricately crafted London-themed jumping efforts, the heavens opened and didn't stop for the better part of an hour. Nonetheless, she went on to jump clear through numerous strides and immense triple-bar oxers, as well as a London bus comprised of small, easily knocked blocks, a plank fence version of the Tower Bridge, and a 6-foot-3-inch-wide water fence. While the first rider finished clear, throughout the day the rails, along with the rain, kept on falling. In fact, the best team effort was put forth by the Saudi Arabians, with still one fault from their top three riders.
The Brits came up from the bottom of the rankings with immense crowd support. The air was drawn out of the stadium as the audience held their breath, waiting for each of their hometown horses to soar clear over the final effort – a triple-bar oxer standing between 1.50 and 1.60 metres in height – before breaking out in a roar of cheers and applause. In my opinion, the USA team under-performed. McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, Reed Kessler (at just 18, she is the youngest equestrian Olympic competitor in history) and Rich Fellers should have been a rock star team, but they just barely managed to slide under the cut-off to pass on into the third round.
Regardless of any rails knocked, toes clipping water and fractions of seconds taken, simply being able to watch so many immensely talented top horses and riders in one day was amazing. My favorite moment of the day was when one rider, after landing clear to tremendous applause, rode around the stadium looking out at the crowd and pointing down to his horse, as if to say, “It was all him.” And that partnership, that time that is put into training not one but two athletes to perfection, the ability to work together in harmony, to trust and listen to each other that is what makes riding so difficult and what separates it so completely from every other sport. It is an accomplishment for every horse and rider, but for a pair to work so well together to make it to this Olympic level is an undeniably amazing feat. My only disappointment from the day was that I didn’t have tickets for the next day’s events.
Boylan is a native of Waitsfield.