An unscripted glimpse at the Canadian Equestrian Team's athletes, supporters & fans before, during and after major games. #CanadaStrong

Archive for July, 2012

Day of Thrills & Spills

I’m writing this the day after cross-country day, with a heavy heart for the Canadian Eventing Team who experienced a pretty rough day overall, but also with a lot of pride for how they carried themselves through the disappointment and of course for Jessica Phoenix & Exponential who had a terrific ride.

The day started off well, with blue skies, sunshine and a cool breeze.

Our intrepid assistant team leader Tina Collins arrived at the venue box office early to pick up the Friends & Family tickets for our athletes, then stood outside for 2 1/2 hours to greet the family & friends of our athletes and hand their tickets to them. What a trooper!

And many MANY thanks to Eventing Team Manager Fleur Tipton who managed to find an extra ticket for Tina so that she could watch the cross-country (because of the very low # of Accreditations Canada received, Tina unfortunately doesn’t have one).

I made a quick trip to the stables to make sure that everything was kopasetic with Eventing and Dressage, then next stop was to the Sports Information Desk to make sure I handed in the Training Venue Pass forms for the next day. The latter is part of my daily routine as LOCOG won’t allow you to indicate multiple days on the form. So each and every day I diligently go to the Sports Information Desk to hand in my 3 forms (we are allowed a max of 3 per day). But gold star for me for being so organized – I have photocopies for each support team member that is using a venue pass, each in a separate plastic folder per person, and pen in the date.

I made sure to grab a map of the cross-country course since I hadn’t yet had a chance to walk it, and today Tina and I would be playing host to Canada’s chef de mission Mark Tewksbury who was coming with his partner to check out all this crazy horse stuff. What made this even more special is that it was the 20-year anniversary of Mark winning his gold medal in Barcelona – whoohoo!! I was hoping to get him a Cadbury chocolate gold medal, but sadly the morning got away from me and I didn’t have a chance to pick one up.

The throngs of people arriving was just amazing! But luckily we were able to find Mark and Rob without too many problems and off we went to check out some fences.

Mark was suitably impressed, and I think he managed to snap quite a few pictures in the short time he could spend with us before whizzing off to Canada Olympic House for Canada’s celebration of the first Olympic Medal at these Games (Bronze for Emilie Heymans & Jennifer Abel of Diving).

Unfortunately Mark wasn’t able to see any Canadians ride. As we were eagerly awaiting Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice, we heard the announcer came on the loudspeakers to say they had a fall at Fence # 3. What a horrible sinking feeling, especially since we were a looooooong way away. Thankfully both horse and rider are ok, with Hawley suffering a fractured tailbone which while very painful, just requires rest & healing. I hear that Ginny tried to continue the course on her own, but was eventually corralled πŸ™‚

It was funny because when the announcer explained to the crowd that the rules are once a rider has fallen, they are eliminated and cannot continue the course, I explained to Mark that Eventers are cut from some pretty tough cloth….they could have a bone sticking out of them and they would clamber back on and finish all the jumps!

Bad luck seemed to dog us Canadians throughout the day with Peter Barry and Rebecca Howard also experiencing falls, but both riders & horses walking away without any longterm problems.

As you know, Jessica Phoenix & Exponential totally smoked the course! And when I asked Jessica at the end of the day what it was like, she said it was a blast.

So all in all, a rough day, but also one where Tina and I felt so much immense pride for our athletes. They were incredible and dealt with the emotional rollercoaster with such grace & professionalism. And terrific to see our Dressage guys clambering all over the course in support of their Eventing comrades. And it was such an incredibly nice experience to have people from all nations come up to Tina and I asking with genuine concern and affection how our riders were, particularly Hawley.

I’ll leave you with some pics of the day. Funny thing being here at the Olympics within a team support role….you actually don’t get much of a chance to see the actual competition!

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Greeters for the Eventers galloping into the main stadium

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The Sundial jump immediately before galloping into the main stadium

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Tina being a rebel and standing on the seats to get a better view of the course

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I will never get tired of this view!

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The amazing jumbotron – the image quality is spectacular! And the ariel cameras provide incredible coverage

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Zee Dutch!!

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The Queen’s House where our valuable owners are treated to fabulous food, wine and the best seats in the house!

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Very cool moon jump at the top of the hill by the Observatory

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They say there were almost 70,000 people at Greenwich Park – I believe it!!

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The Fam out cheering on Zara Phillips

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Zara in action smoking through the course

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This helped immensely with the heartbreak of seeing our Canadians end their Olympic experience prematurely

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It was pretty difficult to get up close to the jumps because of the crowds

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The fence that took out a few people, including Hawley Bennett-Awad & Peter Barry

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Team USA getting prepped in the warm-up

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Love the purple flowers with the grey horse.

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Canada’s Rebecca Howard & Riddle Master getting ready for business

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Loving Groom’s Dana Cooke’s handiwork with the maple leaf design quartermarks!

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I still think David O’Connor looks best in the red & white

20120731-140905.jpgGreat Britain’s William Fox-Pitt heading to the warm-up

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Rebecca Howard & Riddle Master at the first jump

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Nearing the finish line

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Japan is enjoying a great games

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Our dressage folks hangin’ with the Chef de Mission

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the long walk home. Have I mentioned yet just how friendly and helpful the British army has been? They have been brilliant!!

Day 2 – Eventing Dressage

I’m squeezing in another quick blog before I have to head off to find the Cosport Will-call office with Dressage Team Manager Christine Peters and Assistant Team Leader Tina Collins.

Today is Dressage Day 2 for Eventing. What started off as a brilliant day with blue skies, sunshine and very comfortable 20 degrees weather has turned into colder, blustery, thundery and lightneny (sp!) rain.

The day started VERY early for Tina, who had to be at the venue box office at 8 am to pick up tickets. LOCOG have a terrific program where they make available 2 tickets per athlete for every session in which they are competing. These can only be ordered by the respective National Olympic Committee (NOC). Our Canadian Olympic Committee takes care of this, and we are VERY fortunately to have Suncor/Petro-Canada’s generosity as they are paying for ALL of these tickets for every Canadian athlete. How great is that!?!?!?!

Not so great are the many “hiccups” LOCOG is experiencing with this first-time-ever program. This has lead to a lot of anxiety both for the COC, and for us. The tickets for today were not made available for purchase until 6am. Luckily the COC are amazingly awesome (big shout-out to COC Ticketing Officer Allan Koyanagi!!!) and they have been ordering some of the best tickets in the house and getting them in blocks so all Canadians can sit together.

Tina told me that we rec’d all 10 tickets for today (we have 5 Eventing athletes). Ireland and New Zealand were also standing with Tina to get theirs. The Kiwis only rec’d 1/2 of theirs, and Ireland rec’d non……yikes!

Then Tina spent the next 3 hours standing at the box office to make sure that all of the Canadian Eventing Friends & Family rec’d their tickets. Tina – you rock. I’m going to put in an immediate request to double your salary πŸ™‚

Royalty was in the house as the Princess Royal and Prince Phillip were on hand to see Zara Phillips lay down a lovely ride.

Tina and I had the opportunity to see Jessica Phoenix and Exponential’s test. They looked as elegant as always, but unfortunately had a couple of small bobbles. But still finished with a very respectable score of 54.80 penalty points.

Then the weather took a nasty turn. Blustery winds, rain, thunder, lightening. Thankfully Tina and I had already made our way to Devonport House (Grooms Hotel) to work upstairs in the office area and catch up on emails and get some blogging done……but I feel badly for anyone who was in the training and warm-up rings. They actually had to hold the competition at least twice.

As I write this, Rebecca Howard & Riddle Master should have already gone…..so I’ll have to look up her score.

Our Dressage team are all settled in and enjoying their first day of training and checking out the rings. I managed to grab a couple of shots of Ashley and Diane.

Here are a few pics….and then onto cross-country day tomorrow. Canada chef de mission Mark Tewksbury and assistant chef de mission Sylvie Bernie are hoping to make it out – yay!

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Hawley Bennett-Awad on her way to the main competition ring on Day 1

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Personal best!!

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Peter Barry chillaxin’ before his dressage test

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The picture of poise & grace under pressure.

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Thailand’s Nina Ligon in the mixed zone following her ride.

Wow wow wow!! Opening Ceremonies

What an amazing time!!!
We had 5 athletes walk in the Opening Ceremonies: Ashley Holzer, Jacquie Brooks, David Marcus, Tiffany Foster and Ian Millar.

It took a bit of coordinating, which caused me stress during the day as I wanted to make sure that everything was good for the athletes. Jacquie and David had their ceremony pants at the Village (they had to be altered), so wanted to make sure they knew where to go to get their pants.

Tiffany was coming in by train from Belgium, and Ian was coming in from the Jumper training camp in Newbury. The Jumpers haven’t done their Outfitting yet, so everything had to be timed so that Tiffany & Ian could come to the hotel to try on their clothes before we headed to the Olympic Village. And to make sure that we had some exchange options, Tina dragged all of the Jumper Grooms & Support Staff duffel bags up to our hotel room.

As luck would have it, all of Tiffany’s clothes fit her (phew!!), but Ian’s shirt & pants were too big so we dug through the other bags to see if we could find some smaller sizes. After a bit of panic, success!!

We managed to grab a quick bite at the hotel, then set off on the DLR for the Olympic Village. The train ride was surprisingly quiet – -I wasn’t sure if it would be packed so I had planned for a few extra minutes just in case.

When we arrived at Stratford Station, the crowds then appeared. Exciting!

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We then made our way through the crowds to the Olympic Village. It was definitely fun to see all the people heading towards Olympic Stadium for the ceremonies.

My job was to deliver Tiffany & Ian to the Canada residence building at 8:15pm, and we arrived at 8:05pm. Result! I even had time to make sure that Jacquie’s and David’s pants were waiting for them at Team Services. Even better result, a few minutes later the Dressage athletes arrived and had time to change their pants!

Mark Tewskbury & Sylvie Bernier (Chef de Mission and Asst. Chef de Mission) then gathered all of the Canadians for a rousing pep talk. Mark reminded everyone that a competition like the Olympic Games is a collection of great highs, but also can have great lows….so prepare and embrace for both. He also recounted a funny (although morbid!) story to prepare us for what can go wrong at the Opening Ceremonies despite everyone’s best efforts. Mark’s first Olympics was 1988 Seoul, Korea, and for the Opening Ceremonies the organizers had 200+ white doves to symbolize peace. They released the doves prior to the lighting of the torch, and Mark said it was quite a moving moment as the doves soared then settled to perch on railings, the cauldron etc. Moving in a different way was when the torch came into the stadium, and the cauldron was lit……and burning doves started to fall from the sky. Thankfully nothing like that happened here!

What was really nice is that Mark explained they were arranging the marching formation to have the first row of 8 with past Olympians. As Mark put it, since the 2012 Canadian team is comprised of over 64% rookies, COC wanted to have the veterans lead the team in. Mark then introduced all of the Olympians and you should have heard the chatter amongst the athletes when Mark introduced 10-time record holder Ian Millar – whoohoo!!!!!

After the pep talk, we then started off on the march out of the village. Lining the route were schoolkids who went crazy when they saw Canada! Many of the athletes stopped to sign autographs, or run along and high-five their outstretched hands. There is definitely LOTS of love for Canada here!

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Taking a pic of the army taking an pic of us. Have I mentioned yet how friendly the British army are?? They do all of the security at Greenwich Park, and they are so happy to see Canadians! I’ve already made a deal with one army girl….I will trade her one of the fancy Canadian pins and she will buy me a bag of Minstrels chocolate (my fave).

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One of the many Canada banners along the route of excited schoolkids. Notice what’s in the bottom right-hand corner! (hint: VERY Canadian!!)

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Ashley Holzer with some of the performers

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Getting closer! You can see Ian Millar & flagbearer Simon Whitfield in this shot.

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In the chute

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We’re in! This is the holding area in the centre after our march into the stadium.

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those are real meadowland flowers!!

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There were some very cool Opening Ceremonies outfits

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Go Team Canada!!

20120729-145151.jpgIan with Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury

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The Social Media Games! Everybody texting, facebooking, tweeting πŸ™‚

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Wills & Kate!! (oh…and the Queen too)

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20120729-145837.jpgGo Team India!

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Tiffany, David, Ashley and Jacquie by the Olympic flame.

As you can see from this small selection of photos, it was a brilliant night. We were on our feet from about 7:30pm – 2:30am, so needless to say I was a cripple by the end of it (and well into the next day!) but so totally worth it.

Ian was a total rockstar during the ceremonies…all of the Canadian Olympians wanted their photo with him and Ian was so accommodating, and had a fun time posing for all the pics!

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Ian with Synchro

At the end of the evening, Ian was whisked away to do an interview with CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, which appeared on the National that night. Tiffany and I made our way back to the Village, where I dropped Tiffany off at the Athletes Dining Hall (it was packed!), and I made my way back to the Canadian building. Ian and I agreed to meet at the “Moose” when he was finished with interviews so we could catch the DLR train back to Greenwich.

The last train was 2:30am, so when the clock started to creep up to 2am, my anxiety started to rise when there was still no sign of Ian. Our dressage gang showed up, and chowed down some cereal (thanks COC!) before they rushed off to catch the Tube.

As I started to panic, COC was able to locate Ian who was making his way back from the CTV broadcast studio. He arrived at the “Moose” at 2:10, then it was a (very!)) mad dash to the DLR station platform. My feet and legs were killing me from all the standing, but I knew my mission was to get Captain Canada safely on the train so that we could meet up with his car back at the hotel (Ian was going back to the Jumper training camp that night, Tiffany was staying in the Village before heading back the next day). I kept thinking “this is how marathon runners must feel” with each agonizing step I took….except marathoners of course aren’t quite as nicely “padded” as I am πŸ™‚

We managed to get onto the training with 5 mins. to spare – Woohoo!!! A quick call to Assistant Team Leader Tina Collins confirmed that Ian’s car was there and waiting for him.

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You just never know who you will meet on the train! These guys were part of the “Industrial Revolution” show in the Opening Ceremonies.

And I leave you with this great shot. It appeared on the screen at the end of the Ceremonies.

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An Eventful 48 Hours

Sorry for the lack of postings for the past couple of days. It’s been an eventful 48 hours that have passed by at warp speed. It’s now 11:45pm as I write this, and tomorrow is going to be a craaaaazy day (Eventing Jog & Opening Ceremonies!), so I’m going to paraphrase below, include some pics, then hit the hay.

The following are excellent examples that a great deal of the “behind-the-scenes” stuff that happens at a Games is rarely anything to do with the horses & competition itself.

In no particular order……

1. I drowned my iPhone. While I do have a COC-issued phone, I always keep my iPhone with me in the event that someone needs to reach me and don’t have my COC number. Not to mention I can take advantage of writing some emails when I have free WIFI, acts as a quick backup camera, and more importantly has my list of contacts.

So when you accidentally “drown” it while in bed trying to multitask by writing emails, answering texts on the COC phone and having my squeezie-top water bottle beside me…..it’s not good. Squeezie-tops are great, so long as you remember to actually close them. When you don’t, I found out that the bottle quickly empties itself all over your bed coverings, soaking anything in its’ path. My phone has been sitting in a bag of rice for 3 days and tomorrow will be judgement day when I charge it and try to turn it on.

2. It’s amazing just how reliant we are to the Internet. When you are part of support staff at a major games, quadruple that. And sadly the internet at the hotel has been pretty non-existent. In fact, the only reason I’m able to post this is because I figured out how to turn on the “mobille hotspot” on my COC phone. It’s not super-fast, but at least it works. The grooms hotel, on the other hand, has FABULOUS wifi…..but we’re not there very often to take advantage. So that is partially why it’s proven to be extremely difficult to blog. When I do get Internet, I’m furiously sending and replying to emails.

3. Paperwork. There is LOTS of it to be done! Applications for venue passes, print outs of schedules, forms to complete for clothing exchanges.

4. Our Eventers had another opportunity to ride in the main competition ring today with the dressage ring all set up, judges booth in place, video screen active, and music playing. Whoever is the DJ is awesome! Stone Roses, Specials, Madness, Spandau Ballet, Pet Shop Boys. I love England! Our guys all looked great and all were very happy with their schooling sessions and the quality of the footing. It was fun to see them riding at the same time as the British team, and to see just how really awesome our Canadian Eventers really look.

5. Tina and I had our first visit to Canada Olympic House, which is located at Trafalgar Square. It officially opens tomorrow. We went to pick up Family & Friends tickets….expecting to pick up Eventing’s which is the first equestrian competition, and very confused that LOCOG decided only to release the first days of Dressage Dressage, and Jumping Jumping……they aren’t release the Eventing tickets until late tomorrow afternoon. That will make for some interesting logistical planning on our end to get these tickets into the hands of Friends and Family before competition starts the morning of the 28th!

It’s now midnight, and tomorrow will start at 7am and last until 2 am (Opening Ceremonies!)

So I leave you with some pics, and ask your forgiveness for this being so brief.

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First Team on the Ground – Eventing!

My catch-up blogs are going to be a little out of order….hope people don’t mind too much.

Our Eventing Team arrived yesterday around 1pm to the venue.

Everything went incredibly smoothly, with the horses & equipment first arriving at the Equine Staging Facility (ESF) which Peden (the official equestrian logisitics company for LOCOG) set up at Greenwich University, about a 15-20 min drive from Greenwich Park.

The logic used for ESF was to have a pre-checkpoint where the horses could be checked (for any obvious signs of distress), and the equipment could be separated and scanned (EVERYTHING must go through xray machines before being transported into the venue.

Because Canada has pre-booked all of our arrival times at ESF, we were given first priority even through Sweden arrived just ahead of us. Sorry Sweden! We still like your furniture though.

Horses could then get back onto the trailer, grooms were scanned through security, and off the lorry (yes, I’m picking up on the British lingo) went to Greenwich Park accompanied by an official LOCOG car complete with flashing lights. The trip to the venue was only about 25 mins, which was great. Another brief stop while the army used mirrors to inspect under the vehicle, then off into the venue itself where the horses where delivered almost to the stable door.

Me, I was not so lucky. The LOCOG car could not proceed on into the venue, which meant I enjoyed some exercise as I hoofed it from Black Heath, right to almost St. Mary’s Gate. I know tha’s about 5 furlongs because the venue has a very nifty galloping track which I was told yesterday is 5 furlongs. I essentially walked from one end to the other, and then some. Albeit did enjoy the company of a very attractive and polite young army officer.

All the horses settled beautifully. Our stable block is one of the longest in the venue and quite conveniently located under the partial shade of trees. Our Eventing & Dressage horses are at one end, and the USA is at the other end, with a couple of Italians in the middle. Beside us are the Brits (looking very sharp with their bunting…I’ve already made a mental note for next Games)

The grooms and athletes seem very impressed with the venue, and were eager to start exploring. In addition to the main competition ring, there are 5 training rings, a lunging ring, hacking area, the aforementioned gallop track, and cross-country school area.

Big Kudos go to Peden for masterminding such an incredibly smooth arrival process, and to KER who had all of our shavings, hay, grains and carrots at the ready.

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Grooms’ Lounge – sweet!

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….and their amazing outdoor patio area. Grooms are really being treated to first class facilities here.

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Canada loading the Eventing horses back into the trailer at the Equine Staging Facility

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Equine Staging Facility where all equipment must get scanned before it can come to the venue

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First Canadian hoofprints at the venue!

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Getting organized

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Busy giving the stables a Canadian touch

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GO CANADA!!!!

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