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Sidelines Blog from WEG #1: Let the Games Begin!

August 22, 2014 By: janwest Category: General

Darlene Arrives at WEG! Photo by Diana De Rosa

Darlene Arrives at WEG!
Photo by Diana De Rosa

This is the first of Darlene Ricker’s exclusive blog posts for Sidelines from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy. One of the few journalists to arrive in Caen several days before the Games open, her initial report gives our readers a unique insider’s preview of what’s in store. 

The tunnel from which the horses will enter the arena.

The tunnel from which the horses will enter the arena.

By Darlene Ricker

Photos by Darlene Ricker, unless noted otherwise

Tomorrow the curtain goes up on the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, in what is sure to be the most amazing Opening Ceremony in Games history. As the suspense builds, the Normandy Organizing Committee (which everyone here refers to as the “NOC”) is keeping a tight lid on the program. At tonight’s rehearsal, I will be among the few to get a preview of what’s in store. But not to be a spoiler, I’ll only be able to share with you my general impressions until after the actual ceremony.

The equestrian marching band practicing for the opening ceremony.

The equestrian marching band practicing for the opening ceremony.

However, this much I can say now: I had a chat with Games CEO Fabien Grobon, who told me there will be numerous surprises for the senses. He alluded in particular to special effects and animation, some of which will make spectators feel as though they are standing onstage with the performers, actually experiencing the action, not just observing it from the stands. “I guarantee, you have never seen anything like this!” he said. On that you can rely; I have known Fabien for five years, and he is a man of his word. Given that he was for many years in charge of marketing and entertainment for the top tennis tournament in the world – the French Open – one can’t even begin to imagine how impressive this Opening Ceremony will be.

Stabling area at main arena (D'Ornano) is the white tents at left. It is about 20 feet from the sidewalk in the center of the city of Caen. You can hear horses whinneying from the sidewalk cafes & bistros.

Stabling area at main arena (D’Ornano) is the white tents at left. It is about 20 feet from the sidewalk in the center of the city of Caen. You can hear horses whinneying from the sidewalk cafes & bistros.

Meanwhile, the city of Caen (where most of the competition venues are), along with the rest of Normandy, is revving up for a 15-day extravaganza. Yesterday, I spotted U.S. dressage chef d’equipe Robert Dover strolling around town, just outside d’Ornano Stadium, a magnificent venue that will host the Opening Ceremony and the competitions for two of the most popular disciplines (dressage and show jumping), as well as the show jumping phase of eventing. D’Ornano was originally a soccer stadium and has been completely revamped for the Games. I walked through it and was amazed – and it takes a lot to amaze me after several decades covering international equestrian events. There literally is not a bad seat in the house (no posts to obstruct your view anywhere). The spectator seating ay d’Ornano completely surrounds the arena and is stacked low, so that you feel very close to the action. What a spectacular setting!

I also checked out the stabling area (which I won’t be able to do again after the horses arrive, as FEI stabling is strictly off limits to everyone except athletes, grooms and officials; this is for security and equine health reasons). The stalls are lovely, light and airy, with fresh bales of shavings waiting to be broken open when the horses arrive. There is additional stabling just like this at each of the venues, which is a great convenience for competitors.

The Alltech Media Lounge - where Darlene will spend lots of time updating Sidelines!

The Alltech Media Lounge – where Darlene will spend lots of time updating Sidelines!

Speaking of convenience, the organizers even decided to build a temporary hotel for the three-day event competitors and their teams at Haras du Pin (the venue for the dressage and cross-country phases of eventing), so that they can be close to their horses at all times of day and night. Haras du Pin is normally an hour’s drive (without Games traffic) from d’Ornano Stadium, where the show jumping phase of eventing will be held. Eventing discipline manager Jean-Marc Varillon told me how pleased he was that the Games organizers went to such lengths to ensure the comfort, safety and convenience of the horses and riders.

That is the case across the board for each discipline in these World Championships, with every luxury a competitor could imagine being provided. After all, as Fabien puts it, “These athletes are not coming to compete; they’re coming to make a place in history.”

Let the Games begin!

The stadium - soon to be filled!

The stadium – soon to be filled!