Laura Graves competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
For just the second time in its 28-year history, the FEI World Equestrian Games are being held on American soil.
And while a sparkling-new $200 million facility in Tryon, North Carolina, will draw attention from the participants from more than 70 countries, members of the U.S. equestrian team will be looking to make their own statements — and possibly earn Olympic quotas.
The two-week event, which began Tuesday and runs through Sept. 23, takes place at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, which features a 20,000-seat main stadium. More than 500,000 spectators are expected for the competition in this town of just 1,700.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Are The World Equestrian Games?
The WEG began in 1990, uniting most of the FEI’s 10 disciplines into a singular championship event. It is held every four years midway between each Olympic Games.
Currently, eight of the 10 FEI disciplines are part of the WEG: dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, Para-equestrian dressage, reining and vaulting. The other two — horseball and tent pegging — hold their own championship events.
More than 850 athletes and 550 horses will be participating. The only other time the WEG has been in the U.S. was 2010, when the event was held in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Key Disciplines
The three Olympic disciplines are dressage, eventing and jumping. Para-equestrian is contested at the Paralympic Games. Dressage and eventing begin this week, with jumping and Para-dressage to come later in the competition.
Dressage is basically a ballet performance that is scored much like figure skating. There are three classes of dressage: grand prix freestyle, grand prix special and grand prix. Freestyle is the highest of the three levels. Each rider and horse team to perform a set of patterned movements that are graded by seven judges.
Eventing combines dressage, cross-country and jumping, with the same rider and horse performing for each phase on three consecutive days.
The Americans need to finish in the top six as a team in a discipline in order to qualify that team for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The athletes who make up that team in Tokyo would be selected later.
Americans To Watch This Week
The U.S. has not won a team or individual gold medal in an Olympic discipline at the WEG since 2002, something that could change this year. The 2002 eventing team gold is the only win ever by the U.S. in any of the three disciplines.
Laura Graves and her 16-year-old horse Verdades enter the competition ranked third in dressage. The 31-year-old from Orlando, who earned a team bronze and finished fourth individually at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, will need to overtake top-ranked Isabell Werth of Germany. Werth is a six-time Olympic gold medalist who actually holds three top-10 spots — including the top two — in the world ranking with different horses.
Two other Americans to keep an eye on in dressage are Adrienne Lyle, a 2012 Olympian, and Kasey Perry-Glass, a 2016 Olympic team bronze medalist. They rank 18th and 20th, respectively.
The U.S. has two individual bronze medals at the WEG in dressage, to go along with one team silver (2002) and one bronze (1994). Those two individual bronzes were won by Steffen Peters, who is on this team but is on a new horse, Suppenkasper.
In eventing, Great Britain and New Zealand dominate the top 10, but the Americans have three competing in the WEG among the next eight. Lynn Semansky is 12th, two-time Olympian Boyd Martin is 13th and 2012 Olympian Will Coleman is 19th. Coleman only joined the team Saturday after Marilyn Little was forced to withdraw due to a training injury to her horse, RF Scandalous.
“First thing, you are just incredibly disappointed for Marilyn and her connections,” Coleman said Tuesday. “That horse has done some remarkable things this year and she was very deserving of this spot.”
The Americans have won a team eventing gold medal in 2002 and a bronze in 1998, while claiming three individuals medals (Bruce Davidson, bronze in 1990; Dorothy Trapp, silver in 1994; Amy Tryon, bronze in 2006).
Severe Weather Approaches
Unfortunately for a showcase event like the WEG, weather has been and will be a major story throughout the two weeks. Hurricane Florence, a dangerous Category 4 storm, is bearing down on the East Coast and, in particularly, North Carolina. Florence is expected to hit landfall Friday.
Local and FEI officials addressed emergency plans Tuesday, saying the facility can withstand winds up to 90 mph, in accordance with International Building Code standards. There are nearly 1,300 permanent stalls on-site.
“There are numerous multi-floored buildings at the venue and our permanent stabling is incredibly secure and safe,” the WEG said in a released statement. “In the case of severe weather which requires immediate response, we have a robust evacuation protocol.”
Where To Watch
In case you can’t make it to Tryon, NBC Sports will provide 65 hours of coverage, including 57 hours live on NBC, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. The WEG will also be streamed on NBCSports.com, OlympicChannel.com, the NBC Sports app and the Olympic Channel app.