I write this blog having just returned from Rio de Janeiro for what were my final visits before the start of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in August. I have now been to Rio 6 times in the last 12 months and it has been fascinating to watch the rapid progress the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and City, State and Federal government has made. Expertly put together by the British Paralympic Association and British Olympic Association, my itinerary included time with the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, and visits to the Olympic (and Paralympic) Village, the equestrian venue in Deodoro and the Olympic Park. Our planning is now well underway but there is still much to do.
I visited the equestrian venue in Deodoro again during a major Rio thunderstorm that brought local traffic to a stand-still. The good news is that there is a lot of work going on to complete the new buildings (additional stable blocks, the vet clinic, working in arena surfaces etc.) and renovate the old. However, as acknowledged by venue manager Ataíde Pereira, there is not a day to lose if everything is to be completed to meet the target end-date for the building works.
The Field of Play has a brand new surface that was put in for last year’s Test Event; it has been regularly maintained since and I think will provide an excellent surface for all the equestrian disciplines. The permanent stand pictures below will be augmented by temporary stands to give a seating capacity of about 14,000, about half the size of what was in place in Greenwich in 2012. Still, filled with Brazilian flair and enthusiasm it promises to be a very noisy arena.
Meanwhile the Olympic and Paralympic Village and other venues on the Olympic Park are looking in great shape. The Village in particular is very nearly complete, and the facilities look excellent. In scale it is huge as it will need to accommodate up to 10,500 athletes and staff at the height of the Games. The dining facility looks much like an airport terminal building and will serve a wide variety of food for 24 hours a day. I hear that with the constant supply of delicious food it is easy for athletes and officials to return from an Olympic Games a few pound heavier than when they left!
We continue to provide our athletes and staff with guidance on the Zika virus based on advice issued by the World Health Organisation and the UK Government through their public health agencies. The current approach is based around bite prevention strategies and we continue to monitor the latest medical advice to reduce the risks to our athletes, staff, grooms and owners.
Brazil is just coming into their autumn, which means the famous Rio beaches are a little emptier. But the beaches are just one element of what is a beautiful, diverse and vibrant city, with stunning views and backdrops, and great contrasts between the beach, surrounding mountains, jungle trees and lagoons. What is certain is that this will be a fantastic Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Meanwhile back at home our athletes are beginning to return from the Sunshine Tour and are well into their preparations as they gear up for the spring competition schedule, and then Olympic and Paralympic selection later in the year. It was great to see William Fox-Pitt back in the saddle at Burnham Market recently after his fall last year, and Ben Maher and Jane Clarke’s Sarena posting a huge win in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix under the lights in Palm Beach, Florida. Our athletes and staff are now looking forward to Deauville, Waregem, Badminton and the FEI Furusiyya Jumping and Dressage Nations Cup competitions which are critical markers on our path to selection and the Games.
So the pressure is certainly on our athletes to produce some incredible performances at the 2016 Games. Our aim over the next 4 months is to do everything we can to prepare thoroughly so we arrive in Rio in August with the best supported equestrian team at the Olympics and Paralympics, and to allow our athletes to perform at their very best. May the force be with us!
I will try and provide regular updates during the build up to the Games to keep you abreast of the latest developments and how we are progressing with our preparations. Other information will be available on the Team GBR website (www.equestrianteamgbr.co.uk) or those of you who are on social media I have an Instagram account under ‘performancedirector’ where I post all the latest photos from my various travels.
More to follow next month….