Olympic Tapes Highlight Action

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The set of three official Olympic equestrian videotapes — one each for dressage, three-day event and show jumping — should be a welcome holiday present for those who couldn’t make the long trip to Australia.

The videos were produced by Equestrian Visions of England. Each 100-minute tape covers the team event first in each sport and then the individual competition. The visuals are edited down from the official Olympic video feed, and the straightforward narration is provided by British experts.

The result is not as polished and sophisticated as might be expected, and the tapes could have benefited from additional explanatory graphics and interviews with riders. On the other hand, they simply show a lot of riding and are a welcome contrast from the constant “feature” approach to Olympic sports usually seen on network television with lots of talk and pretty pictures but little real action.

These tapes are clearly aimed at knowledgeable horsemen, and the narration has the flavor of watching a live event on British television. The script expects the viewer to know who and what these events are about, and no precious time is spent on explaining technical jargon for neophytes or in describing the background of the riders.

Because they are produced by an English company, the tapes are also slanted toward British viewers, with plenty of footage of all the riders from British Commonwealth countries, no matter how successful they were, and after the three-day event was over they were mostly unsuccessful. There is also full coverage of the stars in each event, no matter what their nationality.

However, there is relatively little shown of American riders who finished out of the medals: In dressage, nothing of Robert Dover, short segments of Guenter Seidel and Christine Traurig, and pleasing longer segments of Susan Blinks in dressage; in three-day, little of Linden Weisman and Nina Fout, some of Karen O’Connor, Julie Black and Robert Costello, and of course plenty of gold-medalist David O’Connor; in show jumping, nothing of Lauren Hough, a fleeting glimpse of Nona Garson, a little more of Laura Kraut and longer segments of Margie Goldstein-Engle.

From a strictly entertainment point of view, the most satisfying tape is the three-day event because the bulk of the time is spent on the cross-country course, as it should be. The camera work is simply spectacular, some of it from an overhead blimp. The best sections of all the major riders are shown and also many spectacular falls.

The highlight of the dressage tape comes at the end with the complete freestyle rides (and no commentary to distract from the music) of Anky van Grunsven and Bonfire, Isabell Werth and Gigolo, Ulla Salzgeber and Rusty, plus Nadine Capellmann and Farbenfroh.

Some of the dressage editing choices are a bit questionable, with too much time on walks (as it was in the three-day dressage segment, as well) and not enough on piaffe/passage. On the other hand, the camera work clearly demonstrates the dilemma of the judges having to favor the obedience of the older horses over the less-disciplined brilliance of the up-and-comers.

The show jumping tape is the least compelling, with excerpts of a seemingly endless string of horses going around the same ring over and over again. Here the narration is particularly useful to keep the viewer on track. The payoff comes at the end with the three jump-off rides for the individual medals.

The script treads a fine line between pretending to be real-time commentary and a follow-up summary. Most of the time it succeeds without confusing the viewer, which might have been the danger in this approach. The commentators include British experts Richard Davison for dressage, Mike Tucker for three-day. Steve Hadley for show jumping, with narration by Jamie Hawksfield and plenty of British idioms but also more than enough hyperbole.

The tapes are sold through Dover Saddlery (www.doversaddlery.com or 800/989-1500). They cost $34.70 each (less than a ticket to the Olympic event) or $89.95 for the set of three, plus shipping.