With less than one year to go to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and within days of that milestone for the Paralympic Games, the Palace and Park of Versailles were the backdrop to an operational cross-country test event that provided a taste of what’s to come at the stunning UNESCO World heritage site set to host all the equestrian disciplines in 2024.
Over 20 National Federation representatives alongside an FEI delegation, key equestrian technical officials, Paris 2024 Eventing Course Designer Pierre le Goupil, Versailles Palace spokespersons, and experts attended the two-day operational test event in Versailles on Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23 August, which was hosted by the Paris 2024 Organising Committee and their main delivery partner GL Equestrian Events.
The first day was dedicated to testing specific areas of the cross-country course, assessing the footing and groundworks which have been underway for over a year, and introducing the National Federations to the venue and the layout of the future infrastructures that will welcome their teams, as well as tens of thousands of fans in 2024. Several riders and horses were on hand to test the selected obstacles, with the pontoon crossing of the Grand Canal providing the highlight of the day as they galloped across the temporary structure purpose-built for the test event, with blue skies and the iconic Versailles Palace in the background.
For Etienne Thobois, Director General of the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, seeing the horses in action in “the extraordinary setting that is the Chateau de Versailles allows everyone to project themselves and creates a whole new excitement.
“We’re a year away from the Games, and we’ve already been working on the track for over a year, so as not to damage anything,” and “to ensure that the track conditions, particularly when it comes to the jump take-offs and landings, are constant and of good quality.”
Representatives from Versailles were also onsite for the Grand Canal pontoon test, and expressed their anticipation for the Games next year, emphasising the great collaboration between Paris 2024 and Versailles, with all preparations being carefully planned to ensure as little disruption for the thousands of visitors each day, but also environmentally to ensure the site is returned to its original state – with some beneficial restorations which will provide a great legacy from the Games.
“The site must be restored just as it used to be,” said Versailles Palace President Catherine Pégard, “and I believe it will be even more beautiful, because we’ll have improved access, and we’ll have worked to make the gardens even more attractive.
“It is a great pride to associate one of the symbols of French culture, one of the symbols of France with these Games, which will be watched all over the world.”
The second day of the operational test event moved indoors with Paris 2024 presenting the delegates and a large online audience with a comprehensive review and update on all the logistics surrounding venue and sport infrastructures, access, the Olympic village, transport, vet and grooms’ accommodation, accreditation, horse arrivals and departures, stabling and stable services, medical and veterinary facilities, and hospitality services, among others.
“We are really pleased with how this operational test event and update on preparations turned out,” said FEI Games Operations Director Tim Hadaway.
“All the participants were able to get a feel for the cross-country course, and especially see how the ground is being carefully prepared to ensure the best possible conditions for the horses and the athletes next year during the Games.
“The grandeur of the venue deserves the greatest care and attention, and we are confident the Paris 2024 Organising Committee and their delivery partners alongside the Palace will deliver an iconic venue which is not only fit for our sport, but also respectful and representative of the history and heritage this site commands.”