There’s a vibrance and energy about Rio do Janeiro that beckons you to fall in love with Brazil, and that same color and charm comes through loud and clear on Pierre Michelet’s 2016 Olympic Games cross country course.
The fences are a work of art, and we’re immensely proud of the handiwork from the USA’s own Tyson Rementer and Levi Ryckewaert, who are two of the builders who worked on the course.
As beautiful as the course is, it is immensely difficult. The unanimous consensus from the riders is that this is one of the toughest Olympic courses in the past two decades. Phillip Dutton, who is competing in his sixth Olympics here in Rio, said it’s the most challenging Olympics course he’s seen since the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Pierre Michelet also designed the 2014 World Equestrian Games cross country course, which turned out to be extremely grueling, though heavy rains played a large role in that outcome. That said, the same themes from Normandy, plus Pierre’s signature design style, are overtly woven throughout the course.
His courses are not necessarily the biggest in terms of fence size, but they are extremely mentally taxing in that he packs in technical question after technical question on windy, twisty tracks. On this course in particular, Pierre has really used the terrain to up the ante; even the let-up fences don’t seem like much of a breather because many of them are set on uphill or downhill slopes.
Pierre likes three-stride combinations and attacking, forward distances, and you find both in surplus on this course. There are also a number of severely angled fences, with some of them coming off one of those very forward distances in a combination. To say there is very little room for error on this course is an understatement.
If the sheer onslaught of demanding technical questions doesn’t mentally tire the horses and riders, then there’s also the physical challenge to consider. This is a long course: 33 fences with 45 total jumping efforts, 5,840 meters, with an optimum time of 10 minutes and 15 seconds. Horses need to be very, very fit, and the time is almost certainly going to play a factor.
Here are Team USA’s thoughts on the course:
Boyd Martin: “It’s tough, tough; it’s very tricky. It wouldn’t suit (Blackfoot Mystery) that much with all these twists and turns and angles, so I am really going to have to ride well to get him around clear and fast. There are a lot of angles and corners and narrows. The one thing I have, this horse has tremendous speed and endurance, so I think I can afford to take my time at some of the tricky fences and really get him to look at it and press him the galloping lanes and make up some time. I’m quite confident.”
Clark Montgomery: “There’s a lot of questions from the very beginning to the very end. You’re never home until you actually jump the last jump. It’s going to be a tough day on Monday.”
Lauren Kieffer: “It’s certainly a very strong track — one of the stronger tracks I’ve ever done. The footing is great, though; there’s lots of options if you’re having trouble to get home. But if you want to go for the win, you’re going to really have to take some risks, and it’s going to be tough out there.”
Phillip Dutton: “I definitely think that if you win a medal here, you’re going to deserve it. It’s a proper four-star.”
David O’Connor: “I agree with Phillip that it’s probably the toughest Olympic course since Sydney as far as how much influence it will have. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for us, and it’s a good thing for the competition. You’re going to have to be very smart and very much in the moment the whole way around and know what your strengths and weaknesses are.”
We teamed up with the one and only Shannon Brinkman to bring you a course preview from a different view — one as colorful and creative as the track itself. Read on for a fence-by-fence play-by-play, and you can scroll all the way down to the bottom to see a bonus photo gallery of Team USA and other familiar faces walking the course.
2016 OLYMPIC CROSS COUNTRY COURSE TOUR
FENCE 1: The Copacabana Flower Bed is a basic table with an upward profile that’s painted to mimic the sidewalks in Copacabana and decorated with surf boards on the back (check out a photo of the back in the photo gallery below).
FENCE 2: The Arch of Lapa is an upright fence set up the hill that turns towards the first water complex. It is designed to replicate the Arch of Lapa, an iconic monument in Rio.
FENCE 3: The Picnic Table is the first square spread fence on the course.
FENCE 4: The Botanical Garden Water Jump is the first water complex on course. The direct route is to jump the natural log table at A, jump into the water over a hanging log at BC, and jump a log in the water at D. There is a long route here, but it will cost quite a bit of time.
FENCE 5: The Pine Wood Ramp is a let-up fence before the tricky corner combination.
FENCE 6: The Corners Question features two big brush corners, once again with a long route.
FENCE 7: The Burghley Fence is a ditch and brush.
FENCE 8: We usually see a mound complex on Pierre’s courses, and the Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf) at fence 8 gives us a taste. The direct route if jumping the first narrow rolltop at 8AB, going down the mound and back up to another rolltop at C. The jumps are meant to resemble wagon trains.
FENCE 9: This is the final element in Pao de Acucar, an arrowhead fence set on a sharp angle following the rolltop set at the top of the mound (you can see it in the photo above too).
FENCE 10: There’s not much to say about the Bamboo Keyhole aside from this: That hole is pretty small, ya’ll.
FENCEs 11AB and 12: The Pan Am Wall Combination starts with a step up at fence 11A, following by two brushes set on a very sharp angle. They are numbered 11B and 12, so riders have the option to circle around and take a long route here, but it’s going to be very costly from a time standpoint.
FENCE 13: The Amazonian Log is a big jump set on a slope.
FENCE 14: The Narrow Wood Piles are two skinny log piles set on a bending line. Precision and accuracy are key here.
FENCE 15: Riders approach the Log Pile and Ditch after circling through the woods, then it’s on their way to the second water complex.
FENCE 16: At the Old Water Complex, riders jump in over a hanging log on a slope at A, then jump out up a bank at B before going on to an upright vertical at C.
FENCE 17: The Palm Tree Question features another technical turning combination, with a skinny square oxer at A and an open corner at B. There is also an alternate route here. Click here to see a photo of 17A.
FENCE 18: The Flower Box is a simple table after a long uphill pull. Click here to see a photo.
FENCES 19 and 20: This is yet another challenging combination, as riders will jump a large log and land on a slope before going on to two skinny wedges. Click here to see a picture of just how narrow these are on the front.
FENCE 21: The ground at the Wood Pile Launch is sloped both on landing and take off.
FENCE 22: Then it’s on to the White Oxer.
FENCES 23 and 24: Riders can either jump this big table and circle back to the gate you see on the left side of the photo, OR they can take a very gutsy line, jumping the front corner of the table on an angle and then following the white fence line to jump the gate on an angle. (Horse & Hound has a view of the direct route angle at this link.)
FENCE 25: For the Web Water, horses and riders jump a log in at A and then jump an angled upright fence at B.
FENCE 26: Then it’s on to the Bamboo Vertical …
FENCE 27: … and the Fruit Wagon.
FENCE 28: Now we come to the fourth and final water complex on course at Fisherman’s Lake. First horses and riders will first jump over a boat at fence 28.
FENCE 29AB: Next at Fisherman’s Lake, horses and riders jump two angled fish brushes in the water …
FENCE 30: … before jumping over a toad. There is a long route here, though it’s very twisty.
FENCE 31: Next up is the Bridge of Knowledge.
FENCE 32: The it’s on to the Brush Fence, the penultimate jump on course.
FENCE 33: Home sweet home! The last fence on course, Sambodromo, gives a nod to Carnival and marks the way to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
As you can see on the course map, this is a very twisty and winding track:
What do you think of the course, EN? You can click here to see more photos of the fences in the official Olympic description of the fences. As a bonus, keep scrolling to see more photos from Shannon Brinkman’s colorful course walk. Go Eventing!