Previewing the excitement − and the challenges − that lie ahead in Rio this August WORDS: ROWAN DIXON
Previewing the excitement − and the challenges − that lie ahead in Rio this August
Rio de Janeiro, in exotic Brazil, is well known for its legendary Carnival, the sexy samba dancers and the world famous beaches – Ipanema and Copacabana among them.
But it’s also known for crime, pollution and nightmare tra!c – and Brazil has a precarious political situation with moves afoot to impeach the president over budget irregularities, while the country faces a massive economic recession.
All of this makes a fascinating backdrop for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, which run from August 5 to 21. It’s the "rst time an Olympics has been held in South America, and promises to be the biggest Games yet, with a record number of athletes (10,500) from a record number of countries (206) taking part in 28 di#erent sports, and 306 sets of medals on o#er.
$e equestrian events – dressage, show jumping and three-day eventing – will be held at the Deodoro Olympic Park, a military compound which has been vastly upgraded since it hosted the 2007 Pan American Games.
Deodoro will be as secure as it gets, with armed soldiers (there are barracks on-site) ensuring peace not only for the horses and riders, but also for the other 10 sports that will be held there, which include pentathlon and hockey.
Although Brazil successfully staged the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Olympics are a di#erent, and much more complicated, proposition. $ere have been howls of outrage about venues and facilities being slow to be completed, and a growing unease about the "nancial burden on an already struggling population.
And although the country declared it would sort out the polluted waterways, there are still widespread reports of sewage, rubbish and dead "sh in the areas where the rowing, canoeing, sailing and other water sports will be held. Luckily, the riders won’t have to worry about that
Deodoro is to the north of the city, around 90 minutes’ drive from Copacabana beach, and about a half an hour from the Olympic village in Barra.
$e stables have been redesigned and expanded, with wider aisles and much more room for the horses. $ere’s a
Deodoro will be as secure as it gets, ensuring peace for the horses and riders.”
world-class veterinary clinic, and the arena footing is said to be top-notch.
Accommodation for grooms is also looking swish, with new apartment blocks being built adjacent to the venue, offering six-person, three-bedroom living quarters each with a kitchen and a sitting room.
Spectators are going to have to face challenges around extortionate accommodation costs, finding their way to the various venues with unreliable public transport, and potential safety risks.
Riders, of course, don’t face any of these issues; but even so, they will be dealing with a Games in a country that is very different from the European or North American locations where most of them have had foreign competition experience.
One potential issue for the riders is cabin fever: if you are used to competing a large team at events, and training a string at home each day, being stuck in one place for days on end with just one horse is quite an adjustment. And since transportation in and out of Rio is limited, riders won’t have a lot of choice; this is a huge contrast to London, where athletes could get on public transport from Greenwich, where the equestrian events were held, and explore London.
There will also be a fair number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, especially for team officials. Several months out from the Games, team veterinarians had to send a proposed packing list to their own National Federations, to forward on to Brazilian authorities, complete with itemised quantities and manufacturers’ addresses of any medications.
As US dressage team vet Dr Rick Mitchell explains, the Brazilians are very concerned about products being smuggled into the country illegally. “So we’re going to have to maintain a strict
inventory… and what is brought in has to match what is being taken out, with documentation of what has been used on each horse.”
No riders will be allowed to bring in supplements.
Looking at the big picture, having the equestrian events in one location close to the heart of the Games (compared to 2008 Beijing, for example) is a huge bonus. But former FEI secretary-general Michael Stone – who was in Rio for the Pan Ams – says don’t be surprised if the crowds are light for the equestrian events, especially for dressage, seeing Brazilians are not as prominent in that discipline.
“As with many South American countries, equestrian sport is very elite. Socially, there is a huge divide. So I do think it’s going to be di cult for them to get huge crowds.”
And this will be in sharp contrast to the London Games, where not only were the crowds strong for the equestrian events, they were also knowledgeable.
ABOVE The arena facilities, seen here at last year’s test event, are superb
LEFT The Centro de Hipismo crosscountry course under construction