Songs have led armies into battle, inspired revolutions, and raised the spirits of a nation. In the London 2012 Olympics the Individual Gold medal in dressage was going to be a closely fought battle. There were 22,000 people in the stands. I was one of them
The last rider to go was Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and her horse Valegro. She raised her hand to signal the start of her music. She entered the arena and halted to salute the judges. Then came the song. The theme from the film the Great Escape. Brilliant! The Great Escape is a story about American and British soldiers who devise and execute an escape from a German POW camp in WWII. It could not be more appropriate for this moment in time. Historically the Germans had been unassailable on the throne of Dressage. In the years just before London 2012 there had been some challenge from the Netherlands and from the British but Britain was not a nation that was even taken seriously in the discipline of dressage. So here was Charlotte and Valegro doing the piaffe and passage to the music of The Great Escape. The British were going to escape from the dominance of the Germans!
Then in the canter the pirouettes were to the chimes of Big Ben. And the best song of all came to accompany the extended canter: Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory. As Charlotte rides Valegro across the short side before she turns for the extended canter across the diagonal the chords of the song alert us to what is coming next. The British know that song, it is almost an anthem. The last night of the Proms, the British Empire, Victory in two World Wars, this is all “Land of Hope and Glory”. I’m not even British and there was a huge lump in my throat when I heard those chords and knew what was coming next. Of the 22,000 people at least 15,000 of them must have been Brits. I was surprised they were able to remain in their seats and not stand and start singing along.
There was a wave of emotion, no, not just a wave, a tsunami of emotion that swept across that stadium in Greenwich. The judges would have to have been robots not to be affected by it. Also apart from one small miscommunication their ride was glorious. Charlotte and Valegro were brilliant and the music chosen and arranged by Tom Hunt had helped them to prove that.
Charlotte and Valegro won the gold medal. Watch this video and listen to the songs.