From some guy at the world cup

Well, I’m back with another riveting episode of our World Cup adventure.

Today, we arrived at the equine centre a few hours early to have lunch (did I mention that Switzerland is not only mega-organized, but also uber expensive) because lunch at the hotel was the equivalent of about $60 Canadian, which seemed perhaps a tad steep for a salad and sandwich.  The venue meal plan for the riders and their entourage, while a bit more reasonably priced, did not appear visually appealing – yes poor me.  But the food in the exhibition area itself is reasonable, tasty and nutritious – a good range of salads, pasta, sandwiches, and for those inclined flaky Swiss pastries and tasties to please almost the fussiest dessert-er.

Which brings me to my actual point; the Swiss appear to have taken the “green” movement quite seriously, with many seemingly innovative actions.  One of which is their approach to “fast food” which gives biodegradable plates, and what seem to be wooden cutlery.  Good thought, one might say, but the downside is the tines on a wooden fork are not pointy (feel like I’m in a maximum security prison and the guards are worried I will use my fork as a shive).  Quite difficult to stab a salad leaf, let alone a fellow inmate.  But they do service quite well for a very tasty rigatoni with Bolognese sauce.  Salad, will have to be scooped not poked.  All in cost, about $15 Canadian.  Better.

We watched the warm up area for the undercard (I didn’t know there was an undercard, but there you go).  As you would all know, many of the same competitors, just on different mounts.  What the heck, might as well make a bit of extra pocket money if you can?

I found it oddly disturbing that about 40% of the warming up riders were not wearing protective headgear (aka helmet) while on the horse in the ring.  Granted they were just “flatting” their mounts (is that the right term?), but I recall a recent controversy relating to a magazine cover shot – yet I digress.

The events of last evening – major changes in the wind (and now see the p.s. below).  As an innocent, to me the course appeared a titch harder than the first round.  Not only was the time limit a tight 74 seconds (which was indexed after the first three riders), there were harder jumps to see (colour, as I understand) for the equine partner of the pairing, seemingly more difficult in judging how many strides to take between jumps, and slightly different field conditions.

Harkin back to yesterday – new-ish compound surfacing the arena, it “sounded” very firm and didn’t scuff up much – there were few hoof marks in the top; today, softer, less resistant to scarring, deeper divots.  The Piste crew had their work cut out for them, consistently jaunting out to repair the blemishes of the prior run.

A second interesting element of this competition; a number of riders changed their mounts from the first round.  I thought a part of the challenge of this multiday format was the partnering of horse and rider.  Which I thought was a rule violation but, on consulting the now dog-eared rule book, is in order.

The first phase of the event saw a number of yesterday’s top runners yielding rails or time faults.  Of our top four from yesterday, Rich, Rodrigo and Luciana all had penalties and didn’t make the nine clear rounds in the jump off.  Our Karen Cudmore, while having her own troubles en-route, was eliminated at the last obstacle as her Southern Pride refused twice.  Again, rule book, takes her out of the remainder of the competition.  There was one other elimination at that same final jump, which in some small way, affirms the start up view that it was an “ugl-ier” beast.

Of the final jump off competitors, the field yielded Swiss Steve Guerdat on Tresor V in first place. Steve rode Jalisca Solier earlier but switched up to Tresor V tonight which was obviously a much more successful pairing.  The home field advantage is interesting here, with a large contingent of Swiss riders, and an equally large cadre of Swiss home supporters.  The crowd of fans in the back corner are soccer-esque keen, without the associated hooligan brawling.  It is fun to watch, good for the event, you know they will go wild with a Swiss rider placing let alone winning.  Good, even though the officials have to “shusch” them on occasion.

McLain was again well-positioned in second on this tough track/time combo, and seems for all the world to be the leading contender in this years contest (scoring?  Haven’t figured that out yet, no really, it’s complicated).  Well done, clean (see p.s.) and efficient.  Also, his demeanor at the subsequent media conference was more relaxed and seemingly comfortable.  He noted that he has worked very hard over the past few years to grow to be the accomplished and more confident rider he has become.  He responded very well to questions and embraced his new American team mate……

…Mario.  Mario Deslauriers, that is, positioned a solid third in this tough field, again placing two “Americans” on the winning dais.  Being fair, Mario did an exemplary job in responding to the “why change teams” question.  While I think we would all prefer him on our side of the border, bravo Mario.

We chose not to attend the second first performance of LORENZO and his magical horse act (only at an FEI event could there be an announced “first time ever” when he was clearly the entertainment of the prior evening, even in their own program).  I chose to have a refreshing glass of wine and fries.  Yes, fries, the elixir of the gods.

But then came the long awaited driving portion of the evening (which I also love to watch).  Now, I have been lauding the Swiss for their laser like precision in timing and presentation.  Well, for the first of all events I attended, they were late… precisely 19 minutes late, but late.  I was appalled.  However, it was worth that wait.

Six competitor teams, appearance ordered conveniently in almost their finish ranking; made the excitement crescendo throughout the hour.  The course was tight with a couple narrow bridges, two complicated clover leafs, and a crowd pleasing deep water splash.  The typical whooping, hollering and whistling fed memories of events past – the dialect between driver and four is largely language independent.  And it seemed that the drivers were “mic’d” so we could hear every grunt, groan and grimace in true dolby surround sound.  All very exciting and cool.  I must apologize; the lateness of the closing and longness of the day, I failed to record the winning teams but a concensus opinion was that the Aussies were victorious followed by the Swedes and the Dutch. The final for driving will be held tonight.

So, except for a late evening driving event, today is a World Cup free zone (i.e we have a day to explore).  I think this means a short drive to the south of France, which is basically next door.  Sadly, no wine for me (the driving part), but maybe a first taste of French cuisine in some little road side town.

P.S.  Again, please stand by.  Late breaking news, early this morning, the FEI posted a news release indicating that McLain’s mount, Sapphire, has been disqualified due to an unfavorable, (random?) testing result.  See HC website for news release.  This seems to do a couple things.  One, McLain, the overall leading contender by my count, is now out of the competition.  Two, that places Mario in second spot for Friday’s second round, and maybe a strong contender for the overall win. 

I find this somewhat troublesome (yes, a personal point of view) – troublesome because while I am all in favour of a fully fair and level competitive field, I am skeptical that there is true statistical randomness in their testing, which inherently leads to unfairness.  There should be a requirement for a disciplined approach to level playing field testing, and without trying to boil the ocean here, perhaps such testing should be done where appropriate, randomly or entirely, in advance of the commencement of competition.  There is an FEI media conference scheduled for later today which might shed more light on this matter.  But in any event, this is prime fodder for another contributor’s analysis.  How bizarre.