The London 2012 equestrian programme was held in historic Greenwich Park, home to the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian (hence the origin of “Greenwich Mean Time”).
We were allocated tickets for the cross-country stage of the eventing. This discipline is basically a test of skill and endurance for horse and rider. Spread over four days, eventing comprises three stages: dressage (days 1 and 2), cross-country (day 3) and showjumping (day 4). The team and individual rider with the least penalty points at the end of day 4 each take gold.
Despite some protests from locals ahead of the games, Greenwich Park was an inspired choice for the purpose-built (and temporary) course of 28 fences. Our favourite was “The Moon”, a fence with amazing views through its crescent of London landmarks along the Thames. We did a pretty good job of walking the course but it was a surprisingly hot day and Greenwich Park is very hilly. To recuperate before embarking on the journey back to central London, we spent the last 30 minutes or so sitting in the main arena, watching competitors tackle fences 15 and 16.
The British eventing team included the Queen’s grand-daughter Zara Phillips, riding in her first ever Olympics. She unfortunately missed out on a spot at both the Athens and Beijing games when her horse Toytown sustained injury. By way of compensation, Zara and Toytown were invited to carry the Olympic torch at Cheltenham Racecourse during the nationwide torch relay that took place ahead of the games. With Toytown retired from eventing, Zara’s mount for London 2012 was the aptly named High Kingdom. The other riders for Team GB were Nicola Wilson (on Opposition Buzz), Mary King (on Imperial Cavalier), Tina Cook (on Miners Frolic) and William Fox-Pitt (on Lionheart).
We managed to see all of the British riders at some point during the day. We waited for Zara close to the finish line in the hope that we’d get a good photo or two as she slowed down. No such luck. High Kingdom was on a mission to get back to his stable and galloped past in a blur. We finally tracked Zara down at the media area where she was doing her post-ride press-call. We got our picture and she even gave us a wave!
Team GB pulled out all the stops and completed the cross-country stage with just 130.20 penalty points, putting them in silver-medal position behind Germany (124.70 points). We were over the crescent moon.
What happened next…
The British eventing team finished second overall, just missing out on the individual medals (Mary King finished in fifth place). The riders each received a nice shiny silver medal from Zara’s mum, Princess Anne, herself a former Olympic eventer; the horses got a rosette to wear as they did a victory gallop of honour around the main arena.
British riders went on to achieve a record haul of medals, adding three gold (team showjumping, team dressage and individual dressage) and one bronze (individual dressage) to the silver won by the eventing team.
Greenwich Park also played host to the final medal opportunity of London 2012: the women’s modern pentathlon. Team GB’s Samantha Murray won silver in what proved to be a thrilling climax to the games.