Blog #23: The hottest yet

Do the marketers and media gurus need to get hold of the dressage discipline and give it a good shake up? Jane has been pondering this as the dressage competitions finish.

Pippa and Alice from the Horse & Hound with Andrew Baldcock hanging out in the heat of the mixed zone
Pippa and Alice from Horse & Hound with Andrew Baldcock hanging out in the heat of the mixed zone

Today was the hottest day so far during my stay in Rio. The competition was hot too, and Charlotte and Valegro were the hottest of all.

Up in the press tribunes in the stand we were lucky to have a good breeze to keep us cool. It still hasn’t stopped the back of the monitors melting, but by the time the dressage started, our favourite seats were well in the shade. Those poor people sitting out in the uncovered grandstand would have been roasted by the time the competition finished. The sun was relentless and it does burn: I’m still glowing from a missing a bit of sunscreen the other day.

Going down to the mixed zone to interview riders was like going into a sauna. The mixed zone manager was melting, but she still did a great job. It’s one of the best organised mixed zones I have ever been in. The riders were not keen to stick around and I did have to chuckle at Carl Hester, who gave the quickest interview ever. I was glad I decided to record it rather than use my shorthand, as he talked so fast my shorthand would have not kept up! It wasn’t just because of the heat, however: he was keen to get back to see the other competitors perform. He did a great job too, he got everything he could out of his horse, a smart ride and great choreography.

Beautiful Valegro on his victory lap with Charlotte and their gold medal
Beautiful Valegro on his victory lap with Charlotte and their gold medal

So the 2016 Olympic dressage is now done and dusted. It was a good result but I do worry about the future of the discipline in the Olympics. There is already talk of it being for the chop, and the crowds at these Olympics were not great. There has been a fair degree of social media comment, showing its lack of appeal to many people. As a spectator, if you had of turned up today, not only would you be roasted, but if you had little or no knowledge of the sport, you would have left none the wiser – in fact, probably even more confused.

There wasn't much information available to the general spectators
There wasn’t much information available to the general spectators

When we turned up for the water polo the other day, we were instantly entertained. Great music, commentators amping up the crowd, lots of crowd participation and cheering, and plenty of information on the big screen to let you know what was happening. Compare that to the dressage. You are shshshshshshed if you clap or cheer at the wrong times, and while the announcer says the name of the rider and horse as they come in, and that is also shown on the big screen, that’s about it. Today you didn’t get a score until about three or four minutes after the finish of the test and the total individual judges’ marks only appear on the screen momentarily. If you don’t know much about horses, how do you tell if someone is good or not? Or even what they are trying to do? Even if you know just a little bit, how do you tell which bits gave the winner the advantage? I’m not sure if this was unusual or not, but the music chosen by the riders could hardly be described as upbeat. It may have suited their routines well but it didn’t get the crowds wanting to tap their feet.  The only one I thought was slightly entertaining (from a non-horsey perspective) was the young Spaniard, Severo, who used a snappy Santana song in his music, and others in the audience obviously enjoyed it too. They also enjoyed him interacting with them as he rode up the centreline for the last time, passaging one-handed, and encouraging them to clap and get involved. When he didn’t score so well as his more technically correct competition, the crowd booed.

Perhaps it was better for TV audiences, and hopefully there were plenty of people tuning in for the dressage. Otherwise the sport truly has some issues trying to remain in the Olympics.

It was an all woman finish to the dressage, following on from the three blokes winning the eventing medals.
It was an all-woman finish to the dressage, following on from three blokes winning the eventing medals.

The other thing that I can’t understand about dressage is the draw. Why do they have all the best riders at the end? Why isn’t there a random draw? The field today was just 18. It was divided into three groups of six. The lowest in the qualifying rounds were in the first group. The ones who were mid-field rode mid-field and the ones that were expected to do well were all in the last group. Does the draw become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Could you actually do a stunning test if you were in the first group and leap up to having a medal chance, or are you doomed before you start? Do judges develop expectations that end up becoming predictable? Surely for the sake of transparency for the sport, which is already heavily based on personal opinions, it would be better to show that the judges have to judge what is in front of them, rather than being able to be accused of thinking that the only those in the last group really had a chance? I saw some early tests that I thought deserved higher scores than some I saw later on in the day. While these particular tests were not going to threaten the medallists (who of course were all in the last group), I’m just curious why it is done this way.  I’m probably not making a lot of sense right now, it’s near the end of an intense Olympic experience, but if someone could explain to me why there is not a draw for dressage, I would be most grateful.

I’ll sign out while there are some very loud banging / explosion / gunfire noises going on in the neighbourhood despite the fact that the General the other day said they would cease their practices. Perhaps it is not a practice, or perhaps it is fireworks. Who knows, but chances are it will never be us with that knowledge.