Heat is on as Europeans arrive for pre-Games equestrian event
Just as athletes had to acclimatise to the high altitude for the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, so Beijing Olympic competitors from overseas will use an equestrian event in Hong Kong next month as a dry run for the real thing.
With the temperature touching 35 degrees Celsius and the humidity at 70 per cent, the first horses and riders to arrive for the Good Luck Beijing-HKSAR 10th Anniversary Cup yesterday were adjusting to the shock.
'It feels like a flush, like a [sudden] whoosh,' said Anna Junkman of the German contingent. 'It's hard for me to breathe and it's strange for the body. It's like, what's happened to me now?'
German chef de mission Reinhard Wendt - who brought four horses for the August 11-13 event - said observing the animals and riders under these conditions was the contingent's main aim.
'That's the biggest problem for us - that it's very hot and humid,' Mr Wendt said. 'That's a problem for the horses and riders.'
Eight of the 17 overseas horses expected had arrived yesterday from France, Germany and the Netherlands, with the rest due to arrive next week.
'The horses got off the plane in very good condition,' said John Ridley, the head of racing operations for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. 'It was very straightforward and quite frankly, it should be because if it's not, then we've got some problems.'
The competition, taking place at Sha Tin and Beas River, is being treated as a scaled-down dry run for August next year, when Hong Kong will host the Olympic equestrian events.
The flight which arrived yesterday from Amsterdam carried eight horses, but handlers will have to cope with up to 22 horses on some flights for the Olympics.
The 10th Anniversary Cup is an eventing discipline - a three-day competition involving dressage, cross-country and show-jumping that has its roots in traditional cavalry training - and has a limited number of competitors.
Other countries taking part in the Olympics are expected to send observers.
After the horses were stabled at Sha Tin, they were checked by vets and put into isolation for 10 days. Before arriving, the horses were quarantined in Europe for a week.
Ms Junkman, who rides Cancun, said her horse coped well with the flight. As part of the German contingent, she will provide valuable input for officials and observers, and has already said the air quality in Hong Kong is proving to be a problem.
'But we're here for 19 days so we'll see how it is,' she said.
While many of the observations are climate-related, the foreign riders (who will compete separately from the 20 locals in the event) will also take note of the organisation and logistics of the operation, including the preparation, transport of the horses and the HK$800 million facilities.
From the organisers' point of view, the event will give them a chance to interact with people from different countries and note their concerns and suggestions. It is also a chance to test their preparations - from accommodation to security.
In that respect, observe, learn and adjust are the event's watchwords.
One adjustment the German team has already made is to arrive early in Hong Kong. After visiting last July, the team decided that an early arrival was beneficial for the horses' acclimatisation.
'We try to make them as fit as possible at home, we train them very intensively and then it's a question of whether it's better to be [here] a long time before the competition or a short time,' Mr Wendt said. 'We think it's better to have a long time ... but we will see.'
The event is also an opportunity for police to have a trial run of their security arrangements for the Olympic equestrian events.
Police operations director Tsang Wai-hung said more than 1,000 police officers would be deployed.
Speaking last week, he said: 'These horses are all precious so we have to pay special attention. We will guard them from the airport to the stables.'