July 23, 2012--I've been watching a brilliant TV series called "Twenty Twelve" on BBC America. It's a mockumentary of how the London Olympic organizing committee operates. While it's described as "fiction, more or less," I think I'd be laughing more if I weren't going to be in the middle of the chaos that they depict and predict so well.
Example: There's an episode about a Brazilian delegation that spends the day on a bus, never making it to a meeting with the real London Olympics chairman, multi-gold medalist runner Sebastian Coe, as traffic and a hopelessly lost bus driver take them on an endless detour. But wasn't it just last week that a group of Australians went on a wandering four-hour bus journey from the airport to the athletes' village because the driver was clueless about the route? Yes, that was real life, but it's easy enough to get the two mixed up.
Another example: Twenty Twelve did a bit about planning civil aviation flight paths. Following a horrifying suggestion by the fellow portraying Graham Hitchins, the befuddled head of infrastructure, "Olympic Deliverance Commission" Executive Director Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville, who played Lord Grantham from "Downton Abbey") responds with his usual dry delivery: "If you want to make the security services really jumpy, surely the best way to do it is fly a succession of passenger aircraft from all over the world, one after the other, over the top of nuclear power stations." Fiction, right? But I'll be looking down as we get close to landing this week and wouldn't be surprised to see those nuclear towers right below me.
That's just the beginning of what I could be experiencing. Then there's the threat of an Iranian attack (with "panic rooms" being set up in the Olympic stadium to protect VIPs), roof snipers to take care of the bad guys, massive security problems and a planned strike by border personnel, the folks who run passport-check in desks at the airports (cleverly timed for my arrival).
"Let's Face the Music and Dance," the theme song for Twenty Twelve begins (appropriately) this way: "There may be trouble ahead...".
I'm sure there will be trouble ahead. Many things go wrong at the Olympics, and well beforehand also. One that sticks in lots of patriotic craws is having the U.S. team's Olympic uniforms made in China. Talk about an oversight. And the prices for those who would want to buy such an outfit are ridiculous. Why $750 for the men's blazer? My husband just bought a beautifully tailored sport coat at a reputable men's store for $98 earlier this month. Price inflation is, of course, part of the Olympic tradition. Like the Games tickets that cleverly go for $2,012?
This is the third time London has hosted the Olympics. The first was 1908; the second was supposed to be 1944, but with a war ongoing, it wasn't the best opportunity for a athletic festival. Hand it to the war-worn Brits, though. They were able to stage the 1948 Games. Equestrian sport at that one only lasted six days (this time it's more than twice as long) and I'm sure it was a relatively informal affair (I'll be talking to a veteran of that one when I get to London, so I'll bring you more details next week). Each renewal of the Games since 1984 in Los Angeles, when they went really commercial, has gotten more and more complex, restrictive and larger.
So to the people who bid me adieu with the advice, "Have fun," I reply informatively, "It's not fun" at least if you're a member of the herded and hounded media.
But it is an opportunity to see the best of the best in action, for which I'm excited and grateful, although U.S. eventer Sinead Halpin (with whom I spoke this morning) has been to the Greenwich Park venue and advises that anyone watching on TV or streaming video will have a better view than those who are there.
Still, there is something about actually being part of the Olympics, whether as ticket-holder, journalist or participant. For horse sports, there is no higher visibility. It's so tough to make the team, though. Consider Sinead's roller coaster ride (and we're not talking about the time she spends in the saddle on Manoir de Carneville).
She was on the "A" training list since last year, but got dropped down to alphabetically ranked alternate when the team was announced. Tate, as her Frenchbred chestnut is known, had a nosebleed following cross-country at the final outing, where her dressage wasn't stellar. But now the bleeding situation has been resolved with use of a nebulizer, she's focused and has been elevated to first alternate. If there is a problem (and no one wants this, especially Sinead) involving Mr. Medicott (Karen O'Connor), Twizzel (Will Coleman) or Ringwood Magister (Tiana Coudray), Tate would be called on to fill in. (Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton, the other two team members, have their own back-up horses).
Last minute substitutions do happen; just last week, the Australian team's Shane Rose had to drop out because his horse, Taurus, had an injury, so an alternate replaced him.
If Sinead doesn't join the team, however, she won't even have an Olympic ticket and plans to fly home after the eventing gets under way and settle into that good seat by the TV to watch.
In eventing, it will be interesting to see how horses handle the cross-country at London's oldest royal park, where the compact course may have 3-star-plus jumps but 4-star terrain, with two hill climbs to challenge fitness, and crowds pressing in on the narrow galloping lane to challenge composure. Those you can bet will be ready include Michael Jung of Germany, the world and European champion, riding the amazing Sam. If he wins, he will be the first to hold all three titles at the same time. His chief rivals likely are New Zealand's gritty Andrew Nicholson (Nereo) and Britain's world number one-ranked William Fox-Pitt, with the low-mileage Lionheart. My dark horse choice for an individual medal? It's a tie between Christoper Burton of Australia (HP Leilani) and former Australian Phillip Dutton of the U.S. team (Mystery Whisper). Don't forget, the individual medals are decided by a second show jumping round (because of a dopey International Olympic Committee rule that you can't get two medals for one performance, which makes it more tiring for the horses. Congratulations).
As for the team prizes, which 13 nations are contesting (nine other countries are fielding individuals), Germany will fiercely defend its 2008 championship; Britain has the home team advantage and New Zealand is going to be tough. My dark horse choice: USA.