TRYON, North Carolina (Reuters) - After extreme heat, a hurricane and the premature death of “Barack Obama” it is doubtful few, if any, major sporting events have been dealt a tougher hand than the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).
Staged once every four years, the Games began in suffocating humidity that resulted in the cancellation of the endurance event and forced the putting down of two horses, including one named after the 44th President of the United States.
That was followed immediately by the arrival of Hurricane Florence which drenched the Tryon International Equestrian Center and triggered more scheduling chaos with the cancellation of yet another competition in the dressage freestyle.
Suddenly one of the biggest sporting events to be held in the United States in 2018, which featured close to 700 riders from 70 countries and horses from six continents, was in full damage control mode.
Organizers conceded that with no-shows and refunds for canceled events, the two-week equine showcase would at best break even on a $30 million operating budget.
Chief operating officer Sharon Decker said ticket sales were still being counted on Sunday but expected the final tally to be just over 200,000 as compared to the anticipated 500,000.
“We did not reach the half-million mark but we are thrilled with the turnout,” said Decker.
“Sunday would have been our largest attendance day, a record, and we missed that day completely.
“On television they were saying don’t come to North Carolina, there is three-feet of water, there are 12 people dead and unfortunately all that was true.
“We grieve for them, but not knowing the topography and not knowing North Carolina, it was hard to counter that conversation. It definitely had an impact.”
From a competition standpoint, canceled events aside, the Games produced plenty of entertainment and drama as the world’s top riders and horses battled for medals and berths at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Six Olympic berths were allocated in each of the dressage, eventing and show jumping team events. Germany once again dominated with the most gold (six) and total medals (17).
The Netherlands was second with five gold and eight medals followed by Britain in third on four gold and eight medals and the United States with three gold and 12 total medals.
“No doubt it has been an extraordinary two weeks here,” said FEI president Ingmar de Vos.
“We have had our challenges along the way but great team work has gotten us through it even when Hurricane Florence threatened to spoil the party.
“There were times when we jointly had to make tough decisions but they were made in the interest of horse welfare and the safety of our athletes.
“But in these challenges we have had some incredible sport.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney