I’ve officially reached hour 30 of being awake (unless you count the two hour sort-of-nap I grabbed on my flight from Seattle to Tokyo Haneda airport, which I definitely don’t), but it’s well worth the lost sleep and jet lag to be able to hit the ground running here in Japan. The logistical dance members of the media had to do to get accredited for these Games were astronomical (though, I’m sure, still pale in comparison to the project that was getting the horses to Tokyo!), as Japan remains strongly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and, understandably, hesitant to allow plane loads of strange people from faraway lands into their country willy nilly.
So, before I could even book my ticket, there was a whole mess of steps I first needed to tick through. Multiple pre-trip Covid tests (plus another one for good measure upon arrival in Japan), submission of a strict Activity Plan from which we cannot deviate, agreement to submit to contact tracing during our stay in Tokyo and many, many other things were required from us before we were allowed to travel. Luckily, I was able to apply and get approval to operate upon arrival instead of undergoing a three-day isolation period like some of my peers. I will need to submit to Covid testing for each of the first few days while I am here to ensure I remain virus-free.
But now, the logistical stress of getting here is behind me and, well, I’m here! All it took was a text from photographer friend Shannon Brinkman to let me know she had a taxi coming this evening to take her to the eventing arena familiarization, and as soon as I could get through the lengthy intake process at the airports, navigate a bus to the Media Transport Mall (basically a massive hub of busses heading in every direction to every sport), then another to my hotel to drop my bags and wash my face, I was skipping down the stairs, camera in tow, to go check out the sights.
You’ve no doubt seen loads of pictures, videos and social media posts by now but let me just reaffirm: the Equestrian Park is pure magic. It comes looming out from among the rest of the urban city buildings like a veritable horsey paradise, and the towering stands gave me a pang of sadness that they won’t be filled with even a small number of spectators (though I understand the reasons why). Suffice it to say there will still be plenty of atmospheric pressure on these horses once they’re in this cavernous space all on their own. Luckily, they’ll only have to be in there for about five minutes total thanks to the newly shortened Olympic Games dressage test.
The teams and individuals, who were grouped by threes or fours, were each given 20 minutes to come and school in the dressage arena itself as well as the surrounding space (of which there is plenty). For the final 10 minutes of that time, the riders were given the competition arena to get in some practice while the next team schooled outside. Afterward, some of the riders swapped saddles to go hop over a few fences to practice for the show jumping phase, which will be held partially at night on Monday.
Most of the riders focused on the basics, focusing on getting their horses moving forward and relaxing down to the bridle. Perhaps a benefit of having been here for nearly a week already, most horses seemed fairly settled and unbothered by the big atmosphere. That is, of course, subject to change once eight of their friends are no longer visible! A few riders practiced some of the movements from the test, in particular the flying lead changes that will end up counting for nearly 20% of the dressage score.
Tomorrow will be a light day for me, followed by a cross country course walk with Derek di Grazia and other media members on Wednesday. Thursday the fun begins with the first horse inspection, and Friday it’s off to the races! Stay tuned for much more from Tokyo – for now, I sleep!
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