Horses gallop in Versailles Palace gardens to test the track for the Paris Olympics

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — Horses galloped across the spectacular gardens of the Versailles Palace in a test event for the Paris Olympics on Tuesday.

Versailles, once home to Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, will stage the cross-country part of eventing plus modern pentathlon next year.

The point of the test, which was to continue on Wednesday, was to make sure the five-kilometer (three-mile) cross-country path was comfortable enough for horses, said Etienne Thobois, director general of the Paris Olympics organization committee.

Thobois said they were working “to ensure that the track conditions, particularly when it comes to the jump takeoff and landing, are constant and of good quality.”

“We’re a year away from the Games, and we’ve already been working on the track for over a year, precisely so as not to damage anything ... even when we make a temporary mound so that the horses can express themselves.”

Tim Hadaway, director at the International Equestrian Federation in charge of Games operations, said a new pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal, the largest basin in the palace grounds, was stable enough so that “you don’t have any significant movement that impacts the way that the horse is galloping and feeling as it comes across."

“We’re very satisfied at this stage,” Hadaway said.

Another similar bridge was to be built later to allow horses more access around the basin and in nearby wooded areas.

The setting will include a wide jumping arena with 20,000 seats. That requires major work by winter to flatten the ground before grandstands can be built. The soil to be removed will be put back in place afterwards, organizers said.

No equestrian competition will be held at Versailles before the Olympics, in part to preserve the site and avoid disruption to visitors. The palace itself will remain open to the public during the Games.

Up to 40,000 visitors are expected on the site for the Olympic events, which doesn't concern Versailles Palace president Catherine Pégard, who said the palace was used to welcoming millions of visitors every year.

“The site must be restored just as it used to be," she said, “and I believe it will be even more beautiful because we’ll have improved access, we’ll have worked to make the gardens even more attractive.

“I found myself dreaming of the medals we’ll have, I hope, next year."

The equestrian test in Versailles came after a triathlon test in the Seine River was partially disrupted by worries about water quality, which led to the cancellation of the swimming events last weekend.


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