It is only as you drive through Rio de Janeiro that you understand the enormity of the task that faces the Brazilians ahead of next year's Olympic Games. Everywhere you look there are major infrastructure projects underway, whether it is laying new tram lines through downtown Rio, carving the new Bus Rapid Transit (or BRT) routes through the suburbs and of course the construction of the Olympic venues themselves.
Arriving in Rio on the same day as the start of the official ‘1 Year To Go’ countdown was a special moment. There is a real sense of anticipation in the air as the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and their army of officials and volunteers gear up for the Test Events taking place across this extraordinary city.
Rio is a city of contrasts and extremes. Within a few miles you can experience everything from the glorious beaches of the wealthy coastal zone, to the mountains that famously overlook the city, and the favelas and poorer neighbourhoods that occupy every inch of land and hillside in-between. With a population of over 6 million, and a further 11 million in the greater metropolis area, crossing the city can take up to 2 hours at busy times and it is the new transport projects that will perhaps leave the greatest legacy after these Games.
The Olympic equestrian events will take place within the Deodoro Cluster in the far North West of the city along with Canoe Slalom, Modern Pentathlon, Rugby, Shooting, Hockey, BMX and Mountain Biking and Basketball. At its heart is a vast military cantonment, Vila Militar, which is home to tens of thousands of soldiers of the Brazilian Army. To an ex-soldier, it seems remarkably familiar, with a faint whiff of Aldershot but with more palm trees!
The equestrian Olympic and Paralympic venue sits on the western edge of the cantonment. Host to the 2007 Pan American Games and used since to house the military’s horses, there is already a good deal of infrastructure that will be re-used in 2016. There are of course changes to be made and building has already started on a new veterinary clinic, a redesign of the existing stables and onsite grooms’ accommodation.
All the surfaces in the main and practice arenas have, or will be, newly laid, and an incredible amount of work has taken place to improve the going on the cross-country course. The Rio 2016 staff and volunteers have worked wonders in the last few weeks and have really pulled things together for the equestrian Test Event. The good news is that the important things are well on their way and the venue 'works'. Of course there are still teething problems and issues to be resolved, more of which in Part 2, but our initial impressions are good and we congratulate the Equestrian Competition Manager, Ataide Pereira and his team, for doing an excellent job so far.
Yogi Breisner, Liz Brown and Sarah Armstrong walk the course