I applied for tickets in the first round and got what I wanted, so I was never one of the naysayers.
And yes, it’s costing a fortune, and was going to snarl up London traffic forever (it didn’t, really) and make us a target for every terrorist loony on earth (it hasn’t, so far). And yes, there was talk of locating anti-aircraft missiles on top of a council block in Hackney (was that for real?), and everyone whined about the special traffic lanes (put in place due to the number of athletes who never made it to their events in Athens thanks to traffic jams).
And yes, I’ve had emails from friends saying “I wouldn’t pay to see a bunch of hormonally enhanced monomaniacs jump around on balance beams/dive in tandem/run the 100 meter if you paid me.” And yes, nearly everyone I know thinks dressage is stupid and all you have to do is sit there while the horse does all the work.
But I went to the dressage heats last week and it was bliss. The atmosphere was electric, the volunteers made everyone smile, people waved flags, ate picnics, shrieked when the rain pelted down and sighed when the sun came out again.
Oh, and the riding was…just….breathtaking.
Everyone gasped when the Canadian horse, Capital, freaked out for no apparent reason, and I wondered if it might offer a hint of the sort of huge power that those riders were keeping in check, controlling softly and almost invisibly — with long, slow, patient training and the power of communication between animal and human.
Think about it — a 120 pound rider will never win a trial of strength with a 1200 pound horse, which makes sense of the fact that the equestrian events are the only Olympic events in which men and women compete on equal footing. And a 56-year-old athlete or even a 71-year-old can compete (and beat) a 20-year-old.
(For those still imagining that dressage is one of those dopey athletic freakeries, like dancing with ribbons on sticks, it might interest you to know that it was originally developed in ancient Greece by Xenophon, the great cavalry soldier, as a means of refining the partnership of man and horse in battle. By readjusting the horse’s weight back on his haunches and unweighting his front half, rider and horse would be far more able to swivel and manoeuvre in extremis.)
It was a brilliant day.
Three days later, my daughter and husband went to the Olympic stadium and watched Usain Bolt win the 100 meter final. Both of them said it was the best evening of their lives.
Nay say all you like. My adopted country is famous for winning gold medals in synchronized moaning.
We had the time of our lives.