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Hong Kong People Embrace Olympic Equestrian Events

Hong Kong Government

The Equestrian Company has made great strides in its preparations for the 2008 Olympic Equestrian and Paralympic Equestrian events - and helped Hong Kong people embrace the sport. Hours before the launch of the 500-day countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games - which will open in Beijing on August 8, 2008 - Equestrian Company Chief Executive, WK Lam, addressed a lunch at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, to bring the media up to date on progress. Although the company has been operating for just a little more than a year, Mr. Lam told a full house he could confidently say, "We're on time and on target."

The Hong Kong Jockey Club is paying for and managing construction of the venues.

A recent 'bizarre' incident at its Happy Valley racecourse made international headlines: A sophisticated device with the capacity to fire drug-laced darts into horses was found hours before a race. Would this affect security measures at the games, reporters asked.

Mr. Lam replied security standards would be taken very seriously, "irrespective of this unwanted, rather weird incident." He stressed it had not taken place at an Olympic venue, and that Police were still investigating.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games, or BOCOG, would also provide a comprehensive security strategy for checking facilities before and during events.

Beas River course gets top marks

Equestrian experts who have visited the cross-country course that straddles the Beas River Country Club and the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling say it is one of the best they have seen in recent Olympics. Mr. Lam said the mature trees and wide open spaces of the picturesque course made it an ideal venue. At the Jockey Club's Sha Tin racecourse, eight training arenas and three training tracks are being built, mostly in Penfold Park in the centre field.

The events will take place during one of the hottest, wettest times of the year and in typhoon season. The Olympic Equestrian Events will be held in Hong Kong from August 9-20, 2008, and the Paralympic Games from September 8-12, 2008. Mr. Lam noted two micro weather stations will be set up at Sha Tin and Beas River to provide more accurate weather forecasts.

Specially designed drains are being installed at the sites to remove water quickly and effectively. No matter how much rain falls, it will all drain away within an hour after the rain stops, Mr. Lam said.

Horses registered as athletes

These events are the only Olympic Games that pair people and animals, Mr. Lam said. Horses are also 'registered' as athletes, and undergo drug testing just as people do. While the human athletes' specimens will be tested in Beijing, the horses' will go to the Jockey Club's lab. Four new blocks of stables are under construction, to house the 200 horses that will compete in the three Olympic events: dressage (essentially, horses dancing to music), jumping (in which horses must clear fixed hurdles in a course in a certain order in a specified period of time) and eventing, which combines dressage and jumping with a cross-country run. An extra 25 horses will be in reserve in case any of the 200 must pull out.

The Paralympic events - with 78 competing horses - will be the biggest ever. They will use the same quarters the Olympic participants. The Prince of Wales Hospital and North District Hospital will be ready to treat any human participants for injury or illness, while the world's largest contingent of horse veterinarians will be on hand to help any horses in distress.

Community embraces equestrian events

Mr. Lam has rich experience in public administration, having joined the civil service in 1974. He was the Chief Executive's Office Director when he left the Government in January 2005, and had been Secretary for Home Affairs from July 2000 to June 2002.

Clearly, he still relishes his commitment to the community. He said he hopes the upcoming games will leave a lasting legacy for equestrian sport not just in Hong Kong, but in China and the region.

There are clear signs people are embracing the sport, here and in the Mainland. Beijing now boasts more than 70 riding clubs, Mr. Lam said. Here in Hong Kong, the queue to join the local riding school stretches to three years. Riding facilities are springing up across the boundary in Shenzhen to meet the growing demand.

People are also keen to sign up as volunteers. While about 1,800 will be needed for the two sets of events, more than 10,000 people have applied. Most have a proven track record with a history of volunteer work. One of the Equestrian Company's biggest 'problems', he said, was answering calls from people asking why they had not been chosen.

He was also pleased with the results of a recent design competition seeking designs for jumping fences. Though it was not widely advertised, it drew more than 2,000 serious submissions from around the globe.

Anniversary event to put venues to the test

In August, 2007, an equestrian competition will be held to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover - and put the facilities through their paces. It will provide an opportunity to identify any shortcomings and rectify them ahead of the main event a year later.

A campaign kicks off today to help promote the events, to win over local people. Another countdown begins on August 8 - one year to the day the games open in Beijing.

"We can't be complacent," Mr. Lam said. "At the end of the day, Olympics are for the people."

Public anticipation appears to be on the rise. A year ago, when people recognised him in a coffee shop or cafe, they asked him to enjoy his retirement. Nowadays, he said, people encourage him to get on with his work in arranging the Olympic events.

HK to benefit in many ways

He reminded people that while some people would be inconvenienced by the events, they would bring many benefits.

"Equestrian sport is popular, especially in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. It attracts many television viewers of the leisure class who are likely to travel and spend money."

What's more, he said, it was rare to have Olympic co-host cities, and Hong Kong will have the distinction of being named an Olympic city.

But most importantly, he said, Hong Kong is assisting Beijing, our nation, to run great games. This would help show the new face of China, a country in transition, to the world.

"We all have a role to play to help our nation with this important mission."

Courtesy: The HorseTV Channel News, http://www.horsetv.com


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