Now that I’m home and I’ve caught up on my sleep, I’ve been putting together some random impressions of World Cup:
Kudos to management. Glenda McElroy and her team put on a terrific show. It’s not often that you’ll see riders, officials and staff all walking around looking happy, but this was one of those rare weeks!
A special thanks to Marty Bauman, who runs a mean media center. It isn’t easy dealing with nearly 200 journalists and photographers, but Marty, Beth Gold and the rest of the Classic Communication “cat-herders” managed to herd us cats with smiles. There’s always food, water and a wireless internet connection available for those who have to work the long hours of shooting, processing and posting photos, writing articles, or both. We heard that Classic Communication will be running the media center at WEG next year… the FEI couldn’t have placed the job in better hands.
The Thomas & Mack Center is a great place to be a spectator, with relatively steep (which means closer to the action) seating and lots of room on both the promenade and adjoining areas for vendors. Even I got a chance to go shopping for a little while, in between sessions of dressage, show jumping and power-photo-processing! What I bought was, of course, turquoise in color… it always seems to work out that way.
It’s not the easiest place to be a photographer, though. The T&M is designed for NCAA sports (it’s the home arena of University of Nevada) and general entertainment. A college basketball court is 94 feet by 50 feet, as compared to 197 feet by 66 feet (20×60 meters) for a dressage arena.
There are two issues that arise. The first is that even with every possible seat removed and bleacher retracted, the dressage arena, when installed at T&M, is actually about two feet short. Although during the first incarnation it caused some consternation by the rules gurus, the extra distance has not been missed in the three World Cups that have been held there, but it does mean that horses do their warm up circle inside the arena because there is no room for them to start outside the arena in order to canter in at “A”. And as Isabell had noted earlier in the week, our photo areas are pretty darned close to the edge of the arena.
The second is the lighting. The lighting at T&M is specific to the dimensions of the aforementioned basketball court. This means that the “A” end of the arena, which is where all the seats were retracted, doesn’t have any lights dedicated to it. In photo terms, it’s a full two stops darker there than at center ring, which in layman’s terms means there is 1/4 of the light at “A” as there is at “X”. Because of the configuration of arena access, the photographers’ pits are at the “A” end of the arena. Thank heavens that camera technology has gotten better over the past 6 years since we first shot at the T&M, which has made it a little bit easier to get photos in low light. I was pleased that my new Canon Mark III seemed to be perfectly designed for these shooting conditions.
To enter the “pits”, we photographers thread our way over, under and around the girders of the retracted bleachers. Sometimes, when we have to move between locations on breaks, we find ourselves in this maze of steel in total darkness when the house lights go down for a laser show or a spotlit exhibition. I’ve learned to clip a teensy flashlight onto my credentials lanyard, just for these occasions!
But further thanks have to go to the staff of the Thomas and Mack, who were across the board some of the most pleasant and helpful folks I’ve encountered. They checked our credentials with smiles, helped us up and down the risers and steps in our photo areas, and pointed us in the right directions with their own flashlights.
Most of the members of the press that were present at this World Cup are also members of the equestrian community. We see each other at championships shows and events here and in Europe. All of us travel with a heavy load of equipment, and with that high a concentration of technology, a percentage of it is bound to be moody at any given moment. But invariably someone would step up to help get the problem fixed – we’re competitors, but most of us are also friends. True to form that week, computers melted down and were resurrected, software misbehaved and was tamed, lenses took hits and were borrowed or replaced, monopods misplaced and found again. Those photographers who were shooting for the dailies papers and the wire services, and who only had an hour before they were due at their next assignment, were given courses in “Dressage 101” by whichever “insider” happened to be sitting closest. Hey, we want our sport to look good in pictures!
The dressage was won by a German-born American, the show jumping was won by an American-born German.
In between, the fabulous Sabine Schut-Kery heralded the beginning of each competition by riding into the ring under a single spotlight carrying the American flag. We were treated to a variety of renditions of the National Anthem, some fabulously fit performers doing their own “airs above the ground” from Cirque De Soleil (I know at least two people who ran to get tickets to “O” because of them!) and dare I mention it, Elvis on Horseback.
Las Vegas itself:
I have lived in New York City. I presently live a few miles from Legoland. What do these two things have to do with Las Vegas, you ask? Well, I had this weird thought as I drove past the New York New York hotel, having to do with The Real Thing and miniatures, and Legoland having these very cool scale models of various landmarks, like NYC, and somewhere in between those two ends of the size spectrum lies The Strip. And then a memory of Planet of the Apes entered my mind and the thought of not just the top of a half-size Statue of Liberty but a half-size Tour Eiffel, pyramid, and a variety of Greco-Roman edifices all emerging from the desert sands in one place, and a miniature Charlton Heston wailing, “My God, what have they done?!” not necessarily because of the historical tragedy but the stylistic one. No, I had not been drinking at the time!
At the Bellaggio one evening, we were having drinks at a bar that overlooked the reception area. It was about 7:00 on a Friday, and we were watching normal-looking people check in. I decided that this was the Dr. Jekyll part of the evening, and that in a few hours, the Mr Hyde in everyone would come out to play. Sure enough, the later part of the night was far more interesting! There seemed a great cultural divide between the Great Badly-Dressed, who were wearing some of the most horrific things, baring body parts that ought not to have been exposed, stuffing unpackageable guts into unforgiving fabrics, and slouching along in off-center flip flops while carrying those huge acid-green Yards of Beer glasses, and the Swans and Peacocks, who inhabit the most seductive bodies that modern science can create. Those bodies were often sheathed in clinging mini-dresses that barely covered what a thong ought to, which mom would not have let out of the house, and they were walking on stilettos the width of chopsticks.
Sometimes, it seems, that the chopsticks overcame whatever alcohol/ether/other substance that was supposed to make them wearable. “I saw a woman walking with her gold 5-inch-high strappy sandals in her hand,” I told my friend Michelle.
“Oh, an amateur,” she replied dismissively. She’s an ex-flight attendant who is utterly at home in high heels, and I can’t picture her walking barefoot through the Bellagio lobby.
“But she was wearing gold flats that matched the heels,” I continued.
“Ohhhhh, now that’s professional!” Michelle replied, impressed.
And that, apparently, is the way it is in Vegas.
Good thing Axel was driving, because I fell fast asleep somewhere on I-15. Something about staying in a place where the phrase “airport hotel” means “if you open the window the planes will fly through your room.” That 3:00 am take off would get me every night, while Axel, ex-Air Force man, would mutter something about having lived at the end of runways before, roll over and continue sleeping.
The next day, I drove passed the bronze statue of the surfer boy by the beach in Encinitas. Someone had dressed it in a fizzy, purple, very Las Vegas shirt. Returning to reality in stages…. Somehow it seemed appropriate.