Plane-loads of horses and riders began arriving late last month in preparation for the Olympic Equestrian Events. Joan Gill takes a look at the venues, facilities and accommodation on offer
While most host nations have up to seven years to prepare for the Olympic Games, Hong Kong was limited to just three. “The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) had one week to come up with a proposal for holding the Olympic Equestrian Events and two years to build the venues. Given the tight timeframe, the construction plan had to be creative, and it included using and modifying existing facilities, plus making temporary ones,” a HKJC spokesperson told Square Foot.
In adapting two existing venues into state-of-the-art Olympic facilities for the 43-team event, the HKJC invested over HK$1.2 billion.
The Hong Kong Sports Institute and Penfold Park now form the site of the Hong Kong Olympic Equestrian Venue in Shatin. Some 18,000 spectators can enjoy panoramic views of the 100-metre by 80-metre all-weather sand arena, which will stage the dressage and jumping events. In addition to the main arena, there are also warm-up and training areas, a management headquarters and reception area. Four blocks of newly constructed stalls will stable up to 200 horses, and another block will accommodate reserve horses.
Existing facilities at the Hong Kong Sports Institute have also been modified to provide office and hospitality space for the Olympic family, event and venue management officials, sponsors and the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
About 15 kilometres away, the HKJC has provided a second venue at the Beas River Country Club and nearby Hong Kong Golf Club in Sheung Shui. Designed by Timothy Court and Company Architects, this venue (the Hong Kong Olympic Equestrian Venue in Beas River) encompasses the 5.7-kilometre-long championship cross-country track, as well as back-of-house facilities, including stabling for up to 80 horses. Like the Shatin venue, it can accommodate 18,000 spectators.
Although there have been concerns over animal safety due to the heat and humidity, Chris Yip, media manager of the Olympic and Paralympic Equestrian Events says, “Test events were held last August and went quite well”. Yip adds that all stables are now equipped not just with air conditioning but also with ‘misting fans’ so horses can be sprayed regularly with cooling water. Additionally, some 40 tonnes of ice will be housed nearby to help cool the horses down.
Athletes and their entourages began arriving in Hong Kong on July 26, and with an estimated 2,000 members of the Olympic family coming to town (not including the 200,000 tourists raring to see the spectacle) accommodation has been spread across four different venues.
Riders and International Technical and FEI officials are staying in the Hong Kong Olympic Village, headquartered at the Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP)-owned four-star, 16-storey Royal Park Hotel in Shatin.
While the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la in Tsim Sha Shui East has transformed into the Hong Kong Olympic Family Hotel, the Regal Riverside in Shatin has become (for the duration of the games) the Hong Kong Media Hotel. Some 140 grooms have been billeted to the Hong Kong Grooms Village located inside the Shatin venue.
In September Hong Kong will once again play Olympic host, this time to the 30 teams and 80 horses competing in the Paralympic Equestrian Events. It’s clear that once the games are over, it will be business as usual for the hotels involved but what will happen to the new venues and facilities?
“As a direct result of the 2008 Olympic Games, most of Hong Kong’s equestrian and sport facilities will have been upgraded to provide a much-improved training environment for local athletes,” a HKJC spokesperson told Square Foot. “Penfold Park will become the site of an interactive equine park and the club is also planning to build an Olympic museum.” It seems even after the games, Hong Kong will still be Asia’s equine capital.