Venue Review: Whether on Foot or Horseback, It Looks Good

Since the unsung heroes of the Centennial Games cannot speak for themselves, allow me to put in a good word for them. The competition venues, virtually without exception, are superb.

Modern arenas and stadiums are much the same the world over, so we can dispense with reviewing the merits or demerits of the Georgia Dome, the Omni, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, and Olympic Stadium, which probably calls for separate discussion. Where an Olympics shows its design mettle is elsewhere - in the facilities that must either be built from the ground up or retrofitted.

It's here that Atlanta's Olympic organizers deserve high marks. In particular, they have created thoroughly enjoyable competition sites at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Ga.; the Ocoee Whitewater Center in Ducktown, Tenn.; the sports complex at Stone Mountain Park with its vista of the world's largest mass of exposed granite; and Golden Park, the charmingly renovated red-brick ballpark in Columbus, Ga., where viewing women's softball was a treat.

Golden Park is part of the South Commons Complex, a four-mile-long stretch along the Chattahoochee River in western Georgia devoted to sports, leisure, and entertainment. The commons began as a horse racing track in 1833.

The Olympics don't include head-to-head horse racing, but they do incorporate cross-country riding into three-day eventing, which might be called the equestrian version of track and field's decathlon.

Having had my appetite whetted for the cross-country phase by seeing spectacular aerial shots of it on Olympic TV monitors, I hopped a bus ride to Conyers and the horse park. Even the highway landscapers had outdone themselves along the route with beautiful roadside plantings.

Equestrian spectators are warned that they are expected to be athletes too, since walking hill and dale to view the cross-country event is taxing, especially on a hot day. The fourth and final portion of the endurance phase in Conyers sent horse and rider off on a 5,700-meter course designed to reflect Old South traditions, with fences and other obstacles bearing such names as Boxwood Crossing, Hunter's Glen, Peach Stands, and Olympic Gardens.

Spectators must wait minutes between horses, and then are tipped off to their approach by whistle-blowing course marshalls. The goal is to ride the course as cleanly as possible within an established time limit. The horses pass quickly, but fortunately an announcer updates the crowd, at one point intoning reassuringly, "David Foster on Tilt 'n' Turn is going nicely at Old Farm Terraces."

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