Grandstands and gallop tracks: Versailles Palace gardens get ready for Olympic equestrian events

The stands to watch the equestrian sports are seen Friday, March 29, 2024 in the park of the Chateau de Versailles, seen in background, west of Paris. The site will be the venue for equestrian sports at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

The stands to watch the equestrian sports are seen Friday, March 29, 2024 in the park of the Chateau de Versailles, seen in background, west of Paris. The site will be the venue for equestrian sports at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

VERSAILLES, France (AP) — Preparations are underway for the gardens of the Versailles Palace to welcome Olympic horse riders and tens of thousands of visitors when it hosts equestrian and modern pentathlon events during this summer’s Paris Games.

Temporary facilities including grandstands are being built across the park, where up to 40,000 people are expected to attend the cross-country part of the event.

The main arena will hold over 16,000 seated spectators for the dressage and showjumping competitions. Located at one end of the Grand Canal, the largest basin in the park, it will offer a spectacular view of the palace, once home to Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.

“It’s a real opportunity to be able to organize such an event in such an amazing and iconic venue. We feel very honored and respectful,” said Anne Murac, who is in charge of the Versailles site for the Paris 2024 organizing committee.

On the western side of the park, temporary stables, with air conditioning, remain to be built. A nearby track with both grass and sand surfaces has already been set up to allow horses to warm up before the competition.

In addition, the 5-kilometer (3-mile) cross-country path is being carefully prepared, Murac said.

“We are working the ground very deeply to put some sand and drainage to make sure the cross-country track will be consistent and to be able to guarantee the safety of the horses and the riders,” she said.

Pontoon bridges, tested last summer, will enable horses to cross the Grand Canal during the cross-country.

Several water obstacles are being prepared. One newly created pond will have the shape of the royal lily, or fleur-de-lis, a symbol of the French monarchy. Horses will also pass through water in the circular basin of a fountain which had not been filled for over 40 years until now.

Murac said, “we wanted to integrate sports and culture altogether and to be able to promote French heritage.”

The five events of the modern pentathlon (swimming, fencing, riding, running and shooting) will also be held in the gardens of the Versailles Palace.

The site will offer “a wonderful frame” for the horse trials, Versailles Palace President Christophe Leribault said. “Horses are so obviously in the iconography of the palace,” including in paintings, sculptures and fountains, he said. “So it’s a wonderful meeting of this old tradition and the modern sport.”

After the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all temporary facilities will be removed, the soil will be entirely put back in place and grass will be reseeded to leave the place the way it was before, organizers said.

The palace itself will remain open to the public during the Games.

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AP Olympics coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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