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Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Not over Yet!

I'm suffering from Olympic withdrawal today.

Last night, I watched as much of the taped NBC coverage of the closing ceremonies as I could before the jet lag caught up with me. I drank in all of the highlight reels, feel-good-story recaps, and other coverage of the past two weeks--because, crazy busy as I was with Olympic equestrian coverage, I'd missed it all.
The Tower of London provided a striking backdrop for the Olympic rings in the Thames. Photo courtesy of the International Olympic Committee.
By most accounts, the 2012 London Olympic Games were a smashing success. The events were well run and the venues were well received by athletes and officials alike. The city, endlessly fascinating in its own right, proved a striking backdrop and a photographer's delight. The normally reserved British people threw themselves into the Olympic spirit, welcoming visitors and appearing to thoroughly enjoy themselves and the spotlight on London. The royal family participated. British rock stars participated. Even Mother Nature cooperated, giving London a nearly complete respite from the torrential rains that had plagued the city earlier in the summer.

The Olympic equestrian events were positively history-making. Great Britain won team gold in jumping and then claimed both the team and the individual dressage gold medals, a first in Olympic history. The largely British crowds at Greenwich Park went mad with joy; I think they did the wave at least ten times around the entire stadium after Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro won the individual dressage gold. And Dujardin's 90-plus Grand Prix Freestyle score set an Olympic record, causing even more pandemonium.

Residing as I do in a country that is lukewarm at best to equestrian sports, it was really fun to see hordes of spectators crowding around individual dressage medalists Dujardin, Adelinde Cornelissen, and Laura Bechtolsheimer, following the three women en masse as they made their way from the medal ceremony to the press-conference room. In this world, for this moment, dressage riders were superstars, with photos being snapped like mad, and tickets and pens being outthrust with requests for autographs.

London was fab...the Olympics were fab...the only thing that wasn't fab was that our wonderful event, jumper, and dressage riders couldn't seem to catch a break at these Games. It was the first time since Stockholm 1956 that the USA won no Olympic equestrian medals at all. Ouch. We equestrian enthusiasts get to know (or feel as if we know) our sports' top performers. We know how hard they work and how talented their horses are, and we feel for them when they try so hard for the brass ring and miss. But we also know that you don't get to the top without mental toughness, and we know our riders will be right back out there fighting in just two years' time, at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.

So if the end of the Olympics and the lack of big celebrations for Team USA have you feeling down, chin up! as the Brits might say. The 2012 London Paralympic Games are just over two weeks away. The US Paralympic dressage team looks to be very strong, and we'll be bringing you news and photos from London once again. And if ever you needed something to boost your spirits, the sight of an otherwise physically disabled rider dancing with a beautiful dressage horse is sure to bring a smile to your face.

Meanwhile, if you can't get enough from the London Olympics and you're a United States Dressage Federation member, you're in luck. We'll be featuring more great photos in the November issue of USDF Connection, the USDF member magazine. Best of all, I'll be bringing you my exclusive interview with British FEI 4* judge Stephen Clarke, a member of the 2012 Olympic dressage ground jury. Mr. Clarke is a soft-spoken British gentleman of the first order--but he doesn't tiptoe around his opinions. Don't miss it.

Cheerio from London, and good luck to our Paralympians!

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