Hong Kong 7th August
It could be said that it is every horse rider's dream to gallop over a golf course. At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games this dream will indeed come true, at least beside the fairways, if not all over them.
Of course this dream has already been fullfilled by riders who have had the opportunity to compete in the magnificent Lakes and Craters competition at Camperdown in Victoria. Maybe our Australian based riders including Sonja Johnson, Megan Jones and Shane Rose will have an advantage.
Just like the Camperdown event, the Olympic cross-country course covers the grounds of a popular golf course, this time in Bees River, Hong Kong.
Course designer Mike Etherington-Smith has designed a 4,560 metre course challenging riders with 39 jumping efforts. “The footing was the biggest challenge, because obviously golf and riding have very different needs" said Mike Etherington-Smith, who lives in England with his wife Sue. “The new footing is fantastic and takes all kind of weather” said Mike who was appointed to the job in September 2005 and had to rush to get in two grass-growing seasons before the Games. This has been important given the Hong Kong weather which can be very volatile at this time of year and the grass needs to be able to contend with a huge amount of water.
For Mike, deciding on the route for competitors was the first task. Creation of the fences came later. “A course designer has to work more on the type of fences and then decide what they should look like. The idea is always to keep the design as simple as possible”, he said.
Mike, who is known simply as 'E.S.' to his peers derived many ideas from Chinese culture, landscape and history, which he discussed intensively with Chinese advisers. "I wanted one fence to look like a spider but was told this is a sign of bad luck in China" he said.''A cross-country course has to look attractive, but we need to respect that it is a sports event".
The big question mark in Hong Kong is the weather, he said. ''We have never had a sports event of Olympic calibre in these parts of the world. It is a journey into the unknown for all of us".
Deciding on the design of the last fences was more difficult than the first ones."I avoid spreads on the last third of the course to save horse power. We've got to get them home, the good ones and the less experienced ones. Nevertheless, the course will have some big jumps".
The 2008 Games are Mike Etherington-Smith’s second Olympic assignment after the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games as a designer of the cross-country course. He was a Technical Delegate in Athens 2004. Mike was recently invited to be the course designer for the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games and is very much looking forward to working with the team in Lexington, Kentucky once the Olympics are over.
© Cyberhorse 2008 Toni-Anne Collins