First off, the transport was a miracle of efficiency and speed. There were no delays, there was no overcrowding, there were pink-and-purple-outfitted people EVERYWHERE to point you in the right direction, who always knew when the next train to anywhere was and which one would be faster and less crowded and could answer questions about what services your ticket was valid on (everything) and anything else you needed to know. Transport for London, I apologise for doubting you! Even leaving Greenwich Park and getting back to central London went without hassle, despite the fact that everyone was leaving all at once. It was very impressive. Greenwich Park itself was crowded and difficult to get around, though the security screening didn't take particularly long, and we were very glad we'd stopped at Paddington and bought sandwiches there, because the queues for food were insane (though there were, impressively, enough toilets). So that was the logistics.
As for the event, it was brilliant. I've always had a particular love for the equestrian events, partly because they're ones I've actually done enough of to understand what's going on, but also because they're so different from most of the other events in so many ways. Men and women compete against each other as equals, the age range of competitors is very wide, teenagers competing against sixty-year-olds, and there's the horses. Sports involve both physical athleticism and mental skill and shrewdness, but here, the physical belongs to the horse and the mental to the rider (mostly, at least: of course the riders need to be fit, and the horses need to know their business, but broadly, that's how it's divided; as Miles puts it, you can't ride a horse by being stronger or faster than the horse, you do it by being cleverer than the horse). And the teamwork between horse and rider is a subtle, delicate, complex business, and watching these horses and riders, some of the best in the world, was a real privilege. The course was complicated and difficult--and very nice to look at, I really liked the themed jumps--and needed careful timing and pacing as well as scopey strong jumping and courage and trust. A horse's vision isn't as good as the rider's, so the horse can't always clearly see what it's got to do, especially with some of the more awkward jumps like the Uffington White Horse one, so it has to trust that its rider will tell it exactly when to take off and aim it well. Other times, the horse will see, or think it sees, the right line, and then the rider has to judge whether to trust the horse to get it right, or to correct it. And sometimes it will all go wrong, and then either the horse will pull something magical out and leap like it's never leapt before, or it won't, and the fence will go down. It's a real exercise in teamwork of a particularly complicated kind. Early on, the Japanese horse refused the second jump spectacularly, and after that you could see all the riders carefully showing their horses that particular jump just before the round began, along with any others they thought might pose problems, so that the horse would know what was coming. All the riders study the course in advance, memorise their route and plan it out, but for the horses, the first time they know anything about it is when they're put at a jump.
Showjumping, as Mr P observed, is something you lose rather than win: you start off with all the jumps up, and either they're still all up when you've finished, or they're not, and it's quite a cruel sport--a single mistake can cost you everything, a misjudged turn, a stride a fraction too long or too short, a second's distraction. Especially towards the end of the competition, the entire arena seemed to be holding its breath whenever a horse was in the air.
It was interesting to see all the different styles: the very tidy, organised Germans, the Belgians trying the same and not quite getting it, the Mexican rider who looked to me like they were going to have every fence down and instead jumped an impressive clear, the very fast British riders... there's no one way to get it right, and a lot depends on the temperment of both horse and rider. And the horses all love what they do as much as the riders; a horse can't get to be an Olympic showjumper without thoroughly enjoying its work the way a good sheepdog loves its work. We were sitting right by the entrance from the collecting ring, and had a great view of the horses as they went out after jumping their rounds, and it was clear the horses knew when they'd done well. Some of them positively strutted out, 'look at me, I did it all perfectly' and others ambled out, 'ha, that was easy' and others plodded out going 'oof, at least that's over.'
The tension built through the event. It was clear from conversations around us that a lot of the spectators had never previously watched much showjumping and were picking it up as they went, but by the time the last handful of riders went in the second round, everyone was electrified and barely dared blink. For the British rounds, it was as if everyone was collectively willing the horses over the jumps, I've never seen such mass focused attention. And when Nick Skelton went last of all, the whole arena was absolutely frozen with attention, and the disappointment when he had a fence down was so strong you could touch it.
But the Swiss rider who ultimately won was amazing. I knew, watching him, that it was going to be a good round, because he and the horse were just working together so perfectly and making each jump look easy. There was a group of very excited Swiss fans sitting near us, and at the end they were practically dancing around, and who can blame them. Of course it would have been nice to be at one of the events with a GB medal, but we've had a fair few medals in the equestrian events this year and there was an Irish rider took the bronze, so Mr P was happy. The great thing about having family in lots of different countries is that you can cheer for a whole bunch of places in the Olympics. :-) And it truly was a wonderful competition.
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/87