Penrose’s vision comes alive at stunning Olympic eventing site

IT is a sunny day in Greenwich Park and people are picnicking on the grass, walking their dogs and playing football. The only clue that the Olympic three-day eventing cross country course will shortly be running here is a strip of rather lusher grass that winds its way through this royal park.

There are no cross-country fences in place yet, although it is obvious where a drop fence will be situated and where the main water jump will be (currently a boating lake). Otherwise it all seems rather tranquil.

We are buzzing around on a buggy driven by Lee Penrose, the man with the daunting job of preparing this course for the Olympics and also responsible for returning the park to a pristine state afterwards. It has, says Penrose carefully, proved to be a “unique challenge.”

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He is the development manager for the Bingley company STRI (Sports Turf Research Institute) which is best known for its work on golf courses and football pitches. At Greenwich, Penrose’s team is responsible for preparing the 6.2km cross country course plus the showjumping and dressage arenas.

The project has taken over most of his working life for the past five years, from the initial planning and designing stage to the implementation. “We had a huge amount of problems planning the whole thing,” admits Penrose. The challenge has involved bringing 12,000 square metres of course up to specification, making sure that ancient trees were left untouched, considering archaeological features including a Roman temple, and using a tailor-made GPS system to track work vehicles around the park to ensure that approved routes were adhered to.

As has been well documented, there was considerable opposition, mainly from local residents, to the park being used for this event. Nogoe (No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events) has been very active in voicing its concerns. “We listen and make sure we come up with a solution,” says Penrose.

Greenwich was chosen because LOCOG wanted the equestrian events to be as near as possible to the main Olympic Park in East London. And it forms a spectacular backdrop with views over the Thames including Canary Wharf, the O2 Arena and the Olympic Stadium.

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The course is now ready for the Games and Penrose and his team are busy maintaining and watering the track. The park will remain open to the public until the middle of July, when work will begin on installing the fences and the track will gradually be closed off.

Part of the cross-country course, which has been designed by Sue Benson, was tried out at a test event last year. It is hilly and twisty without the usual galloping tracks that riders have become used to.

It promises to be different to anything any of the riders have faced before.

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