Greetings from the island. An island of horses and people and peaked-roof tents floats in a sea of fields, somewhere in Kentucky. Some days it feels like a television reality show here, some days it just feels like reality. It feels like we're just getting started, but it looks like we are nearly at the end.
We are rolling through Week Two here at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and we're starting to know our way around. And the event is becoming more entertaining than any of us ever imagined it would. First of all, it's longer than most events, which gives things a chance to sink in for those of us who are in it for the duration. People and horses come and go every few days as the disciplines turn over, and there's a relationship developing almost like a summer camp, where the older kids watch the younger ones and predict what will happen. I feel like a veteran giving the newbies directions and advice.
There's also the dynamic of the Games itself--the management, the volunteers, the security and the commercial exhibitors, not to mention the Teams and Crews. Rules change from one day to the next, as do travel patterns and the access that a given credential signifies. I have no doubt that the last weekend will be perfect.
But I still keep my ear to the ground. Every morning I walk into the Starbucks in Georgetown, Kentucky and sit among the Australians, Brits, Swiss and other Euro-types and I eavesdrop on their conversations. Where are they going? What are they doing? Mostly they are complaining about the food. We're all pretty sick of fast food and fatty food and fried food after twelve days. We were complaining about high prices in the beginning, but most of us would pay anything for some clean crisp non-overcooked vegetables. I've eaten so many burgers, I'm ready to moo.
The other thing I do at Starbucks is read the Lexington newspaper, which generally has a few articles about what went on at the Horse Park the day before, what will go on that day, and then something about WEG's economic impact on the community or on tourism. The paper tries to be upbeat--they are a major sponsor of WEG, after all--but there is a repeated undertone of disappointment in the local economic sector. People in Lexington are disappointed that the WEG tourists are looking for bargains and not buying big ticket items.
That's right. The Euros who should be downtown buying paintings or in Paris (Kentucky, that is) buying expensive antiques are strolling through the Walmart across the street from Starbucks. They're finding out that the WEG official clothing and souvenirs are quite a bit cheaper if you buy them at Walmart. They're intrigued with the guns and ammo department. They're shocked at the low prices of everything. My guess is that there will be a major shopping spree on the last day of WEG like Walmart in Georgetown has never seen.
The trade show vendors tell the newspaper that the foreigners are not buying their custom-designer jewelry for hundreds of dollars. What they don't know is what I observed that they are buying: Walmart's University of Kentucky logo workout pants for $12.99, for instance. Once again, Walmart and McDonalds have thrown a monkey wrench in the economic formula of local businesses. The WEG supporters and teams are eating at McDonalds because they can't find anything but fast food. As one British team support crew member said as we drove past an endless line of fast food restaurants, "No one in Kentucky will ever go hungry." True.
Another problem we're having here is the feeling that we are on an island that has been cast adrift. Most of us are busy night and day working, whether as journalists or volunteers or with the tradeshows or with the horses. The spectators are determined to get their money's worth for their investments in parking and passes and seats and hotels, so they walk into the Horse Park early in the day and walk out in darkness.
Ask any of us what's gone on in the world since September 25th and we'd be stumped. If you hear of a hurricane headed this way, please let us know!
Which brings up the subject of media. We have four types of media here: the horse press (that's my tribe), the mainstream press (newspapers and magazines not specific to horses), the foreign press of all types, and the broadcasters, which also includes a fair number of people who seem to have taken the "no video" rule as an invitation to become radio producers.
And why is WEG not the media's darling? Perhaps there are reporters from The New Yorker working quietly undercover. Perhaps Google just isn't reporting all the news stories that are being published online and in print. We were off to a a great start: Endurance and dressage were covered by the New York Times and then the coverage disappeared, before eventing started. Was that only because the Sheikh was here? There was a lovely New York Times slide show of the endurance race, with silhouetted riders cantering across Kentucky landscapes by photographer Luke Sharrett. Times sports writer Katie Thomas penned an article a day for several days; was it a slow sports news week? Eventing and show jumping haven't been so lucky.
The last article featuring the Games in USA Today was printed on October 1.
WEG has been eclipsed in the news by the Ryder Cup, college and pro football, the coming of the World Series, and the opening of the pro hockey and basketball seasons. Last week there was room in the papers and on the web sites for horses; this week, apparently, things are crowded. And what a shame: the amazing stories of Para Dressage are a journalist's dream. The driving is great fun for photographers, with always spectacular results. And vaulting and show jumping have enough action to liven up any web page or sports section.
WEG received 12 minutes and 51 seconds of coverage, of a sort, from National Public Radio yesterday on Neal Conan's Talk of the Nation show. He interviewed NPR Health Policy Correspondent Julie Rovner about her trip to the World Equestrian Games, and they took some calls about horse sports and the Games. NPR didn't send Julie to Kentucky to report on the Games, but they thought she could make an interesting segment of TOTN by talking about what it was like to have been there. and they were right.
You can listen to and/or download the segment from the National Public Radio website.
Please come back, Julie.
We're left with Aussie video bloggers Hamish and Dave getting scolded by Kentucky State Police and a media center full of slightly jealous journos hissing through clenched teeth, "Who ARE those guys?"
I don't know who they are, either, but I know they had the right idea, although their notoriety here at the Games is probably a bit of a surprise to them. They probably planned to report on the Games and hoped they'd develop a loyal following. My guess is that by next Sunday when the Games end, Hamish and Dave will be better known than any of the medal winners. Americans found them more interesting than the people they were interviewing. They even made Anky giggle. And you can play them on your iPhone.
When The Carrot Blog shows an ExtraNormal.com cartoon of Hamish and Dave, I will know it is time to go home.
So here we sit on WEG Island. The crowds keep coming, the horses keep amazing us, the beat goes on. Somewhere in the distance, the clock is counting down to the end but no one's paying much attention to that countdown the way they did to the countdown for the start of the Games.
Let the last days pass slowly: We're just getting the hang of this place. And just when we have it all figured out, it will be time to pull the plugs and go home.
Isn't that always the way?
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