The FEI Olympic News service as you know it is about to expand, intensify and diversify with a whole variety of new features set to be unleashed. Ranging from in depth historical reports on each edition of the modern Olympic Games, to famous riders and horses, facts and figures or even transportation logistics notwithstanding all the important up to date information regarding qualifications or officials… And last, but certainly not least, a comprehensive news service from the Games themselves!
Get ready, as Olympic fever has begun and no one or no single piece of information will be spared.
06/04/2008 - Travelling First Class Louise Parkes talks to Martin Atock, Managing Director of Peden
Martin Atock, Managing Director of the official Olympic horse transportation company Peden, tells a tale that contrasts the sophistication of 21st Century equine flight management with the less complicated methods employed in earlier times......
In 1990 he was travelling to a show with a team of American horses and US Chef d'Equipe Frank Chapot was on the flight.
"Frank asked to visit the cockpit to have a look around, and he stood between the pilot and co-pilot chatting about how much things have changed over the years in terms of transportation and the rules and regulations and conditions," Martin says. Mr Chapot, a six-time Olympian who went on to become a much-respected course-designer and judge, then astonished his listeners as he recalled his trip to the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden in 1956.
"He said that when the aircraft landed in Stockholm, it taxied in and the doors were immediately opened and the horses walked straight down the ramp onto the tarmac. The saddles and bridles were unloaded from the back of the aircraft and the horses were tacked up - right there on the apron - and were ridden to the Olympic venue which was miles away!" Rather different to the procedures that will be in place as the equine athletes arrive in Hong Kong this summer for the 2008 Olympic Games where air-conditioned floats will carry them in their air-conditioned stabling at the core venue in Sha Tin within 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Martin has been working in the horse transportation business for 20 years now and he says that "98% of the work is logistics". The movement of 303 horses to Hong Kong will be his biggest project ever however, and it promises to be a complex exercise that will test the effectiveness of those logistics to the limit.
The secret of success is, he says, "anticipation - you need to deal with potential problems right away rather than letting them develop."
"The two main concerns are claustrophobia and colic," he continues. "Just like people, most horses will travel fine but there may be one or two who are nervous and agitated and this is where the judgment and skill of our flying grooms comes into play. They are the experts and the back-bone of our operation. It used to be the practice to have the horse's own grooms and vets travelling with them, but the flying grooms are uniquely qualified to deal with situations as they arise. They stay calm and cool no matter what happens, and they know all the signs of trouble brewing and can pre-empt problems by taking quick action".
He says that the flying grooms also have a hugely calming effect on the horses, even before loading. "People associated with the horses naturally worry about them and they can project their anxiety onto the horse so easily. If you have worried, nervous people then you will have worried, nervous horses. I don't think most people realise just how sensitive horses are to human anxiety - they pick it up very quickly and become anxious themselves as a result. The flying grooms, on the other hand, have no personal connection with the individual horses and their calmness and kindness helps the horses to feel much more at ease," he explains.
After the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 there was one instance that epitomises the quick-thinking responses of the flying grooms whose job is all about ensuring the smooth transfer of their charges from one location to the next. Two 747 aircraft were being used to bring the horses home in relays, and while the first two flights went perfectly to plan there was a hiccup when flight three arrived in Singapore.
"As it was about to leave on the next leg of its trip a technical problem was noticed, but flight four was already on the ground preparing to return to Sydney for the final load and the flying grooms simply transferred all the horses off flight three onto flight four in the space of an hour and then continued on their way, while the horses waiting in Sydney just had to spend an extra 18 hours in their stables and they were perfectly happy. The flying grooms on both aircraft liaised with each other and made a quick and sensible decision that ensured the best welfare of all the horses. You need skill to do something like that - knowledge of aircraft, ground staff, technical issues in relation to dealing with the airport authorities - and you need to be a good decision-maker," Martin points out.
He believes a great deal of his work is about stress-reduction. "Our job is to take care of all the arrangements in relation to getting the horses to the competition venue so that grooms, riders and everyone else can concentrate on what they need to do and everyone, including the horses, arrives in a good frame of mind ahead of the competition".
Martin knows a bit about the strains of competition himself having enjoyed a successful Eventing career before calling a halt following a riding accident. It was while he was working for German vet Peter Cronau that he was asked if he would like the job of Road Manager for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police tour of Europe in 1988 and he has never looked back since.
His day begins at the crack of dawn and runs late into the evening but the punishing life-style is something he really enjoys. "I like having a problem so that I can find a way of solving it," he says. "Logistics are a real buzz for me and the challenge is never-ending".
"Complications arise no matter how well things are prepared so you always have to have a contingency plan" he points out and his main purpose is, he says, to create a "first-class atmosphere" for his equine passengers. "You'll notice human first-class passengers look relaxed - they are not rushed on or off the aircraft, they have no stress during the flight and when they disembark they look fresh and ready to get on which whatever they have to do. Well, we aim to treat horses in exactly the same way."
When the equine athletes arrive in Hong Kong for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad then they should be feeling pretty good indeed.....
06/04/2008 - Back to Basics - Ancient Olympic Games
A fifth century B.C. Greek vase depicting a competitor in a chariot race. Bridgeman Art Library
The Olympic Games whose legendary founding by Heracles was recounted by Pindar - regarded as one of the greatest poets since antiquity and whose prose was immortalised by Picasso - find their roots some 3,500 years ago in Ancient Greece. Their duration spanned for over 1,000 years beginning in 776 B.C. and ended in 393 A.D. by decree of the Christian Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, as their ancient associations with what were considered pagan gods had become irrelevant.
Indeed, the original Olympic Games were more than a just a platform for athletes to compete against each other, they were an opportunity to assemble and accomplish the various rituals and sacrifices in the name of Gods – and in this case Zeus. This was not an isolated case, for by the end of the sixth century B.C there were four major festivals featuring organised athletic competitions – the Olympic Games at Olympia in honour of Zeus; the Pythian Games at Delphi honouring Apollo (the most celebrated of the pan-Hellenic festivals); the Nemean Games also in honour of Zeus at Nemea; and the Isthmian Games honouring Poseidon at Corinth. However, the Olympic Games were not limited to Olympia, with later editions also taking place in many locations throughout the Greco-Roman world, including Rome, Naples, Antioch, and Alexandria.
Nonetheless, neither rain, hail, political unrest, nor war could dampen the Olympic spirit, with every edition being religiously held over the 1037 year span. Each edition was spread over five days, with a relatively stable programme as of the fifth century BC, although the occasional addition and withdrawal of a discipline was not uncommon.
The horse and the many accolades which ensued first made their appearance at Olympic Games in 680 B.C. when chariot racing was introduced. It was by far the most exciting and spectacular event on the programme, while the winners of these events went on to be highly acclaimed and revered. The chariots had two wheels and were, when initially introduced pulled by four horses, although the programme would at one point extend the equestrian events to also include horse racing and as well as chariot races for two horses and races for foals – although for the last two, their Olympic status was only short lived.
You can imagine with 30 chariots drawn side by side, staggered starts and 12 death defying rounds, amounting to over 9km of nail biting tremors and dolby gasps form the crowds, it was only natural the winner be showered in praise. Well, only natural in so far that the proclaimed winner was neither the driver nor rider but the owner. Indeed, these were the only events in the ancient Olympic programme which did not recompense the athletes. Interestingly, a very important milestone was borne out of this odd exception.
The very first woman to win at the ancient Olympic Games was a Spartan princess named Cynisca born around 440 B.C. in the four-horse chariot race in 396 B.C. and again in 392 B.C. And while it does, on one level, defy all the odds as women were not even allowed to compete in the Olympic events, it can be explained by the fact that it was the owners of the horses proclaimed winners of the event, and thus a female owner meant a female winner. She was the sister of Spartan king Agesilaus II. It is interesting to note that whilst most women in the ancient Greek world were kept in seclusion and forbidden to learn any kind of skills in sports, riding or hunting, Spartan women by contrast were brought up from girlhood to excel at these things and to disdain household chores.
When the Games were abandoned in 393 AD, the mythical and heroic site of Olympia became largely forgotten until an English archaeologist named Richard Chandler discovered the site in 1766. By that time, it was mostly ruins and much, if not most, had been irrevocably lost, destroyed, and pillaged.
Excavations were then ensued by various teams, a French archaeological team in 1829, but, ultimately it was not until the work of a German team from 1875 to 1881 that brought the site to the light of day and annual reports began to surface on the progress made. They raised the curiosity of one man, who then visited Olympia in October 1894. None other than the father of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, but of course, as you know the rest is history…