Tokyo Tales: Kid in a Candy Shop

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 23:00
2021 Olympic Games
Lily Forado and I hanging out at the MPC of the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo

With already three days of the nine I'll be in Tokyo down my belt there is only one thing I can say: it's amazing here! I feel like a kid in a candy shop. 

After settling in on Wednesday and taking it slow in the hotel, getting unpacked and rested, Thursday morning and afternoon were spent hanging out at the MPC (Main Pressure Centre). Everything at the Games works with abbreviations. To go to the MPC you have to take a TM bus to the MTM (Main Transport Mall) from where you hop on a fuel cell shuttle to the MPC. 

With the TM to MTM to MPC to EQP

I whatsapped my friend and colleague Lily Forado early in the morning to hook up at the MTM. Lily is in a press hotel 800 meters from mine but we take a different TM bus line. We are not allowed to walk around Tokyo, go to restaurants, shops or anything in order not to mix with the citizens of Tokyo and spread the virus, even though we are tested on daily basis. We are allowed to go in certain convenient stores to pick up food to eat in our hotel. Across the lobby of my hotel there's a mini 7/11 and this shop has turned out to be a food and drinks heaven. I got my wake-up cappuccino there before I hopped on the bus to the MPC. Lily was waiting for me at MTM and bubbling with excitement. It's her first Olympics and she's stepping in the footsteps of her father Leon, who was a photographer for Associated Press. 

View of the rainbow bridge from the bus. It takes you to the MPC
The MPC is a massive building where all the major media agencies have offices as well as the National Olympic federations. There's a restaurant, a photo shop, a Canon/Nikon/Sony service center where you can get your cameras and lenses cleaned and fixed for free and so much more. We first did our mandatory duties: go for a covid test which means spitting 1.5 cm of saliva in a tube that gets analysed, then we walked to the photo desk and got the obligatory beige photo jackets we are obliged to wear. You also have these jackets are the bigger horse shows, like Aachen or Hagen, but usually we just tie them like a towel to your trousers as they are ugly to wear and often hot. The photo bibs have developed from sturdy full-pockets fisherman's jackets (London 2012) to a colourful, light fabric bib that was fun (Rio 2016) back to the beige fisherman style jacket (Tokyo 2020), however in a lighter, more wearable fabric for the summer temperatures.  You also get a goodie bag with little photography gifts, including a rain cover for your camera. 

Contagious Excitement

Hanging out with Lily is so much fun. We've known each other for a few years, mainly from shows in Wellington and e-mails, but at the 2021 European Young Riders Championships in Oliva Nova we shared a room together and got much better acquainted. I've been doing horse shows now for 23 years and it's become a bit of a routine. It's exhilarating to have someone young and fresh with you, who overflows with excitement for everything new! It's contagious and I love it. 

Lily Forado models the camera rain cover we got
I have never collected the Olympic pins before, especially because it seems to be more of an Athlete thing. They are given a handful of pins from their national federation to trade and that's how it starts. They meet athletes from across the globe and get their entire lanyard and PVC card pinned, making your pass literally a heavy burden around your neck. At the Canon photo shop we got our first pin and then went to the Spanish Olympic Committee, where we got a handful to trade. The Pin Mission started. It might have been more Lily's thing, but I joined her and was fully on board. Luckily I'm assertive enough to just walk up to someone and asked and my first stop was the Olympic Committee of Taiwan.. With my cousin living there and having visited Taipei in 2019, I wanted to have a Taiwanese pin. There was a young man there, who said he's working his first Olympics and not ready yet to trade. However, when we showed our Spanish pins, he eagerly dug into his pockets and swapped us two Taiwan pins. By the way I refuse to write Chinese Taipei and yes I know I'm being political here. 

We said "hi" to a group of equestrian photographers who all sat together at MPC: Dirk Caremans, Stefan Lafrentz, Thomas Holbecher, Jon Stroud, Arnd Bronkhorst and journalists Jan Tönjes and Sascha Dubach. Canon kindly fixed the mount of my 300 mm lens for free after years of strategically managing the problem. I tried to get it fixed in Belgium but the message from Canon BE was clear: "your lens is too old, buy a new one." (just because the mount is broken, the object that makes you hook a monopod to it, the lens itself works perfectly). I always do very long with my technological equipment, Macbook pro of 11 years, Philips television of 13 years, Iphone lasts 5 years, my lens and camera are now 11 years old.. I just don't understand why I have to replace them for the sake of replacing them with something more fashionably new. If they do the job decently I keep working with them..  However, I do admit that new equipment is always an improvement though and that I do tell myself, "you should have done this sooner." At the MPC I bought a new monopod, simply because I forgot my old dinky one in the hotel. It's a carbon fiber one, half the weight.. it does feel like I waited too long to have that one substituted. It's not about being stingy, but I just don't like this consumer mentality of throwing things away.

Baji Koen

Boarding the bus: Dubach, Holbecher, Lafrentz
In the afternoon we took the bus from MPC to EQP (Equestrian Park - Baji Koen) and shared the ride with commentator John Kyle and eventing legend Lucinda Green, who is assisting Kyle here in Tokyo. We had a lovely chat on the Portuguese Lusitano horses and I told Lucinda that my history buff Silke Rottermann (who likes eventing more than dressage) would have been on Cloud Nine to have met a living legend such as Lucinda.

And then we arrived at EQP. Boy, what a phenomenal equestrian park ! All brand new, it's magnanimous. Amazing stadium with top footing, huge stands, gorgeous decorated arena, the Olympic signage everywhere. I cannot imagine what it would have been liked with all the seats filled with spectators in a "normal" non-covid Olympics. I felt incredibly sat to witness this, knowing that a major horse competition will not soon return to these fabulous show grounds...unless Tokyo wants to try hosting a World Equestrian Games (yes please, even if it's just dressage - eventing - show jumping !!!).

The eventing riders have arrived at Baji Koen and some of them were hand walking their horses, while Stuart Tinney was schooling Leoparis (I had to ask Silke who's who as I don't even recognize them). Ring familiarisation started at 17h00 at the same time the competition classes will take place.

Stuart Tinney on Leporis
The familiarisation moments give opportunity to the horse to get used to the looks of the arena, the time of day that they will compete and the weather. The horses starting later in the evening will compete under floodlight. For us photographers it gives us the chance to test angles and find your personal favourite spots to photograph the rides. Usually for the Grand Prix I'm at the short side and feel very used to that position as you can get the most movements in an ideal angle. However, there is little "Olympic" feel to short side photos, so I might switch angles to get a better Olympic background, but it won't place me ideally for all the movements. We'll wing it. 

When all the riders went, I wanted to try taking a taxi back to the hotel, but if you hadn't reserved one by phone (and they don't speak good English at the taxi center), there was not a single taxi to get. We ended up getting back on the bus to MTM (1hour drive, passing the hotel after 20 minutes) to then return back to the hotel (another 1 hour drive). I felt so frustrated with this waste of time and immediately ordered myself to have all the taxi's arranged for the next few days. I got to room late and was so tired again that I just couldn't finish my article and photos on time.. No training article posted, but instead I had saved a piece on the judging, which I wrote a week ago, and could publish now. 

Horse Inspection Day

Processing horse inspection photos with a
cup of noodles
I slept like a rock but woke up early at 7 to take the taxi back to the show grounds for the horse inspection. A 7/11 cappuccino in hand, the taxi ride took us 20 minutes (Yes indeed!) and we got delivered door to door. 

For the horse inspection we stood in full sunlight and it was around 30 ° C. Because of Covid we weren't packed like sardines, as usual, but were ordered to stand more apart, which worked really well, even though we were melting like ice creams. It was great to see all the horses and riders prim and proper, dressed to the T in their official team outfits. I wrote about here

As soon as horse inspection was finished, Shannon Brinkman, Annan Hepner and I took a taxi back and sat in a fancy sedan this time, but the driver took us via the backroads. This was very interesting, though, to see a bit more of Tokyo, its architecture, cute little Shinto shrines, shops, restaurants and all the authentic peculiarities a foreign city has to offer and which I would love to explore on the day off, but am not allowed too (yes Covid again).  Ten minutes before we reached the hotel we drove past a park where a massive crowd had gathered and was looking to the sky. Soon enough five fighter jet planes flew over releasing smoke in the Olympic colours and drawing the five rings in the sky. 

Japanese food heaven from 7/11
I went back to the 7/11 to buy myself lunch and dinner at once and spent the rest of the day in my hotel room working on articles, sorting photos and publishing them. I took a quick nap between 21h and 22h o'clock (yes I fell asleep during the parade of nations in the Olympic Opening Ceremony) to go back to work until 1 AM.. Thankfully I was able to sleep late as Grand Prix day starts at 17h and gave me plenty of time to rest, work more and prepare for the first official show day. 

Bring it on!

Text and Photos © Astrid Appels - No Reproduction Allowed!!

Related Link
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2021 Olympic Games