1997 saw four trips to Sydney, three months in total. With luck this was the most time-consuming year.
Dealing with the government means a huge amount of paperwork, much more than I had expected, everything, quite rightly, has to be thought out, surveyed, documented, approved and then budgeted before anything happens. Reflect this across the whole Olympics and the size of the operation is really brought home – even a 2% error in budgeting represents a huge figure and seeing, for instance, the main stadium being built, the cost is frightening.
My first trip was January/February and I was lucky that Sue could come with me. Little did either of us realise how much work she would do – 5 weeks seems a long time until we are there when it becomes a very short period – but at least we did escape to Bondi and went sailing a couple of times!
Sydney is a fantastic city with everything revolving around the harbour. We discovered that the famous bridge was actually made in Middlesborough and then shipped out to be put together on site, some feat of engineering. The Australians certainly made us very welcome and it is surprising how many of them are in fact Poms who have emigrated.
The site for the Equestrian competitions at first glance is fairly depressing. It is farm land that has been let go with tumble down sheds, broken fences, car dumps (which the Australians love), etc, and plenty of SNAKES! It is also very hilly and one of the problems is to reduce the overall effect that these undulations will have on the horses – at present the site is too demanding and so much planning goes into reducing this severity – the welfare of the horses must come first.
As course designer I have to plan, mark out, and design all the various phases for Cross Country day i.e. 14km of roads and tracks, plus the steeplechase and cross country courses. Also there needs to be a training track, an all weather gallop (for the horses when they are in quarantine), and a one-day event course, in addition to the site being able to stage Intemational three day events for all levels post 2000. During this first visit we find the routes for the steeplechase and cross country phases and we managed to avoid meeting any snakes (more by luck than judgement considering that most of this work was undertaken in long grass and we could hear all sorts of rustling!). We must have knocked in over 500 posts to mark all the routes.
A one week trip in April was necessary to confirm that the Project Manager understood the routes for the steeplechase and cross country and appreciated the amount of work that would have to be done to make the ground suitable for an Olympic competition.
The June trip lasted for three weeks and Alan Willis (who is probably the most experienced course builder in the world and is heading up the course building team) joined me. He came to see the site and to check out timber yards and suppliers whilst I was marking out the water fences and agreeing the necessary ground work and irrigation plans. It is essential that any course designer has a course builder with whom he has worked previously, particularly at a competition of this importance.
The site itself is very undulating and there is a need to take 4m off the top of a ridge (35,000 cubic metres of rock to move) which divides the park in addition to filling a couple of large gullies and building a bridge (with a 50m span) over the Sydney Water Canal. The steeplechase course will be a blend of cut and fill and there is also a degree of grading of ridge and furrow and installation of a variety of culverts and drains. At this time all the proposed routes have been mown and 35,000 trees have been planted. Another 40,000 are planned to go into the ground over the next 12 months – they are not called the ‘Green Games’ for nothing – and great care is being taken to minimise the impact on the local environment other than enhancement.
The November trip is five weeks. Work has started on the water fences and the ground preparation and half a dozen giant earthmoving machines, plus graders and bulldozers the size of houses are going in all directions. This is when it starts getting exciting and you hope that you have got it right; there is no turning back now! The building team prepare several ditches and do a lot of landscaping work, the temperature is well into the 100’s and temporary shade is created by rigging tarpaulin sheets on posts – forget the F-Plan diet or whatever it is, come course building, it works even better! The Australians are very conscious of skin cancer nowadays and never work outside without a shirt and long sleeves, regardless of the temperature.
We were also able to see the bushfires from the park; thank goodness they were in the distance and did not reach the park itself even though they were very close. It is frightening to see how fast they spring into life and the speed at which they travel.
We head back in February to design the Test Event course. The Test Event take place in September 1999 and is exactly what it sounds like, i.e. a competition to test all the systems such as communications, quarantine, security and transport, in addition to putting officials under the spotlight to find out who is any good and who is not so good and therefore needs promoting out of harms way! The Test Event will be at a lower level than Olympic standard but will nevertheless be an International competition and will give team officials from all over the world the opportunity to check out the facilities.
We build the Test Event course this autumn (their spring) and then, as soon as this has been used, we start on the Olympic courses, one for the Team competition, one for the Individual. Suddenly 2000 seems very close!