Will's Blog: The last word

6th Sep 2014

Well this is it, the Last Word. Although we still have competition tomorrow, I will be leaving as soon as all is concluded and will be hot footing it up to Calais, avoiding unwanted passengers in Calais and using the Eurotunnel to return to Blighty.

Our Drivers have got off to a great start with their Dressage and then the Marathon today saw three very solid performances, albeit with aspects they would like to have improved on, have left the British athletes in mid field.  The Drivers have worked very hard during the build up to WEG and like the other non-Olympic / Paralympic Disciplines they do not have the benefit of the funding and support provided through the World Class Programme. At WEG we try to ensure all the Teams have all of the support they require from the central team of physiotherapists, doctor, media, vets, farrier and of course logistics. The money raised at Badminton Horse Trials this year has allowed us to provide more support than we have in the past, so a very big thanks you to all the volunteers, the Federation staff, those that donated prizes and the Horse Trials Support Group for all they did to raise money at Badminton. The Drivers will contest the Cones phase tomorrow and they will be packing up their camps, waiting to be towed off the venue (most of their trucks ain’t going nowhere).

Vaulting is now finished but WOW did they deliver. That Eccles Clan is a medal factory and their Gold, and Bronze could well be the medals that keep us at the top of the Medal Table. Back to back World Championships titles is an outstanding feat; I suspect there has been little or no coverage of this in the papers “back home”. So spread the world…Joanne and John Eccles are World Champions and deserve recognition.

The World Class Programme (WCP) is funded by Lottery and Exchequer funding which is allocated by UK Sport against some very strict funding principles. I have noticed a couple of comments on Facebook recently that have been clearly written by people who have not done their research. The WCP is part of the BEF and the funding does not go to British Showjumping, neither does it go just to the riders. It funds development programmes, logistics, farriers, vets, Research & Development, physiotherapists, logistics, programme managers etc etc. So when a team (say the Jumping Team) have a bad day, having had many good days over the last four years, it is crazy to start throwing comments around about taking away their funding. There are always highs and lows in sport; the important thing is to focus on the vision and the plan going forward….. and ignore those that are quick to be part of the success and even quicker to distance themselves and whinge loudly, when things do not go well.

All around you can see the signs of WEG drawing to a close. The Reining venue is nearly packed away and plant has been arriving at the Jumping venue to start stripping out the surfaces and returning it to the soccer club that normally resides at D’Ornano. I suspect the venue has rather enjoyed being an equestrian venue!

Prior to the start of the second round of the Jumping today (the Third Individual qualifier),  Jane Clark received an award from the International Owners’ Club, presented by HRH Princess Haya.  Ben Maher accompanied Jane and I guess it was a little poignant that due to a small injury, Cella could not jump at WEG.  However, a very big WELL DONE to Jane, Ben and of course Cella. I am sure Jane did not spend long at the Jumping stadium as she will have been heading back to the racecourse to watch her driving team driven by Chester Webber (USA) do battle with Boyd Exell. I did try to find Jane to say well done….you’ve guessed, I coped a NON!

The Last Word. Memories of WEG? Too many venues spread over too great a geographic area with too many athletes in some of the disciplines. On the whole everyone (especially from the Sport Department) has done everything they can to provide what we have asked for and that has been very much appreciated. Some of the security staff need to go on a charm offensive…but NOT the chap that has been on duty at the top of the tunnel that goes in to the Dressage / Jumping Stadium – he has been a star.

The British Team have had a very good two weeks; maybe not outstanding but certainly very good. We are on track for Rio and we certainly have athletes in the Olympic / Paralympic disciplines that can deliver medals in Rio if they have the horsepower. Charlotte, Lee and Sophie C have been the shop window for this with their individual Gold medals. Jumping will have a nail biter in Aachen next year (last chance to qualify a team for Rio) and Eventing / Dressage / Para-Equestrian Dressage can now put in place a two year run in to Rio, although Paras need to qualify a 5th athlete through the Ranking List. As for Vaulting and Joanne, just outstanding; a privilege to watch. Fingers crossed we will finish on top of the Medal Table…but keep an eye on those Dutch..they have had a blinder of a Games. 

And so the next time I Blog, I will start with Ye hah and will be forced to wear denim. Next Friday, almost 11 years to the day from when I joined the World Class Programme and Team GBR, I will hand in my Toggi Team kit and say adieu. On the 1st October I take up the role of Director of Sport for the United States Equestrian Federation.

Making the choice to leave Team GBR has been the most difficult of my life. I am not only leaving super talented colleagues who give their all to help the athletes / horses succeed but I hope that many of them would not object if I called them friends; I am leaving a family. I would like to especially thank Debbie, Sarah and Sophie who have to put up with me in the office; they are the backbone of the Programme and have worked tirelessly in Normandy to help Team GBR deliver. I do believe we have the athletes to win medals and I believe that we have the Programme to support them – with the right horsepower, elite equestrianism in GBR is in a good place.

I am sad to be going, apprehensive as to what might lie ahead but ready for the challenge. To those that have given their dedication and support, thank you; to those that are quick to criticise and slow to suggest ways forward, I will not miss you. So good luck Team GBR and may the Podium always be red, white and blue! I have a tear in my eye…..but many, many happy memories in my heart.