Hong Kong

The most serious concern here, as in Beijing, is the weather.

The skies are blue but come 11 o'clock in the morning, the heat is so oppressive that half an hour outside is as much as anyone not accustomed to it can bear.

The cross-country section of the three-day-event on Monday begins early in the morning but is unlikely to have finished until 11.30am so the later starters will be at a serious disadvantage, unless the Beas River location is much cooler than here at Sha Tin.

At a distance of only 5.7km it is already the shortest cross-country course in Olympic memory and discussions are taking place about the possibility of it being shortened further.

Having said that, conditions can change very quickly and with rain forecast for the next five days and talk of a typhoon at the weekend, the stamina-sapping heat may be the least of the problems.

On the plus side, the facilities are top class, funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club at a cost of £53m, and all of the horses have travelled over well.

The grooms on the flight with them reported that they had never known a smoother journey and that the transfer of the horses into air-conditioned horseboxes and then to the stables took only an hour.

The horses have been chosen not just for ability, they are all capable of a top ten performance, but also for their build.

A heavy, warm-blooded horse will be affected much more by the heat than the lighter, thoroughbred types who have been selected. They have been galloped in rugs at home to get them used to working in a hotter environment.

Among the riders, it is safe to say that fitness levels have never been higher. All five of them have been training in a heat chamber (not at the same time!) and have been watching their diet and nutritional intake.

William Fox-Pitt has never had weight problems (he is stick thin) but has been hard at work on the cross-trainer to build up his stamina. Sharon Hunt has forgone any aspiration to gain points for interior design and months ago installed a rowing machine in her sitting room.

The key for the British team will be calmness, adaptability and a high-speed reaction to changing circumstances.

In the combination of horses and riders, they have those qualities in buckets and are genuine medal contenders although any event involving animals is more difficult to predict than those without.

Mary King is appearing at her fifth Olympic Games and in Call Again Cavalier has probably her best ever chance of winning an individual Olympic medal.

They were the highest finishing British combination at the European Championships in Pratoni last year when they won a silver medal to add to the team gold. She has made clear her intention here to aim for both individual and team gold.

William Fox-Pitt rides Parkmore Ed, a horse with whom he has built a very good relationship in less than three years, which is a relatively short time in eventing. Together, they won Burghley last year and finished third at Blenheim.

There is unfinished business for Fox-Pitt at the Olympics. In Athens his horse Tamarillo went lame after the cross-country and could not complete the competition. William still picked up a team silver medal but the feeling must have been a little hollow.

For Sharon Hunt, this will be a first Olympic experience and it is highly deserved. She has owned the 14-year-old Tankers Town since he was four and together they have grown into world-class competitors. Steady in the dressage, solid and reliable cross-country and generally good in the show jumping, they are a rock-steady part of the team.

Horses are unpredictable and fragile creatures and after the withdrawal of Zara Phillips and Lucy Wiegersma with injuries to their equine partners, Tina Cook and Daisy Dick got their chance.

Both are experienced British team members and share a determination to succeed. Coincidentally, they both also share a strong racing connection.

Daisy's father, Dave Dick, won the Grand National on ESB in 1956 while Tina's father, Josh Gifford, won the great race with Aldaniti in 1981.

Cook will be on board the youngest horse in the team, Miners Frolic who is a horse with incredible potential.

As long as he adapts to a large and probably noisy crowd and the conditions, he could be in the lead after dressage and after that, it will be down to skill and a bit of luck as to how he goes in the cross-country and the show-jumping.

For Tina, this is a long overdue Olympic chance. She narrowly missed out on Sydney (where she was travelling reserve) and Atlanta so will make the most of her much desired debut.

As for Daisy Dick, she and Spring Along embody the theory that you can't just climb on any old horse and make it work.

Not many people could handle Spring Along's natural exuberance but Daisy contains him without stifling him for the dressage, channels his Tigger-like bounciness into the cross-country and then calms him down again for the show jumping.

She makes it look easier than it is and has been rewarded with a team gold medal at the European Championships.

As a line up, the Famous Five are a formidable team for Great Britain and have a strong enough team to take on the world.

France, Germany, USA and Australia will provide the strongest opposition while New Zealand welcomes the international return of Mark Todd, who will compete in his sixth Olympic Games.

Saturday and Sunday: Dressage (BST Fri 2330 and Sat 1215, Sat 2330)
Monday: Cross-Country (BST Mon 0100)
Tuesday: Show Jumping (BST Tues 1215 team, 1545 individual.

Clare Balding will be a BBC presenter at her third successive Olympic Games in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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