Greenwich equestrian venue's hills 'are real challenge'

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Sport in Greenwich Park, London

Britain's leading three-day eventers believe the Olympic venue in Greenwich Park will provide a tough test, as well as a scenic view of the London skyline.

Much has been made of the vista at the cross-country course unveiled at a test event this week, but riders reckon the park's hills are a taxing prospect.

"The course designer really utilised the hills so it'll be a real stamina test," said Britain's Lucy Wiegersma.

"People have the impression it's a flat venue, and it certainly isn't."

The impact of those contours on the Olympic eventing competition's cross-country phase has been one of the biggest talking points arising from the three-day test event, won by Norfolk rider Piggy French, which concluded on Wednesday.

While the cross-country drew praise, the surface inside the dressage and show jumping arena has been criticised by some ridersexternal-link.

Show jumper David McPherson, who tested the arena on Wednesday, said the waxed sand and fibre surface was "nowhere near good enough", with British colleague Nick Skelton adding: "The ground is a little bit dead and dense at the moment."

Olympic equestrian sport at the Games comprises three separate disciplines. There are medals for dressage, for show jumping, and for eventing, which combines the first two and adds in a further cross-country phase.

The type of horse required to excel at each discipline - and the surface best suited - varies considerably, so organisers counter criticism of the arena by arguing that creating a surface suitable for all three involves a compromise.

London 2012 officials add that because the test event operated on a smaller basis than the Games will, the surface only had days to bed down compared to the six-week period it will have before the Olympics.

More tests to find the ideal surface are planned between now and the Olympics.

"We'll discuss the surfaces and the best way to produce them - how hard, 'fluffy' or sticky they are - but we are 98% there," said the British Equestrian Federation's performance director, Will Connell.

"Universally, we're thrilled with the venue. It's produced more than we expected at this stage.

"The biggest challenge is getting the message across to everyone that what you have seen this week is very different to what you will see next year."

Among other changes for the real thing next year, the cross-country course will almost double in length from the three-kilometre track used in the test event.

Even this year's short course, however, produced admiration and excitement among Britain's elite riders as they toured it for the first time.

"The hills will be a major factor. You're going to need some tough, fit horses going around here," Olympic bronze medallist Tina Cook told BBC Sport.

"You're going to feel that you're going very fast with the hills and the sharp turns afterwards. It will be pretty full-on."

British Eventing chief Yogi Breisner, walking the course with several of his team, told them: "There will be real challenges with the terrain and the hills, but also the 'twistiness' of the course."

Light-hearted concern has even been raised that horses expecting to see the usual trees and fields could be distracted by views of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Stadium and the O2 Arena as they negotiate the course.

"It's a fabulous view when you look over to London," said British rider Nicola Wilson.

"Hopefully the horses will settle into a rhythm, focus on the job in hand, and not be too aware of the big city."

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