There’s no doubt top-level sport looks different this year, with the Cheltenham Festival running behind closed doors and the Olympics set to have no overseas spectators. Ellie Hughes investigates the effect this has on competitors

WELLINGTON, FL - FEBRUARY 3: Savannah Talcott (USA) riding Fabian D during the Class 1006 - $2,500 1.35m Jumper (II2d) CabanaCoast in the Winter Equestrian Festival on February 3, 2021, at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

THE national anthem echoes around the empty arena as the Union Jack begins its lofty ascent. A British rider stands proud on the podium, brimming with relief, disbelief and pride. But as the final chord dies down there is no rapturous applause, no whooping or hollering, no standing ovation. This is Tokyo 2021 – the pandemic-hit Olympics that rewrote sporting history.

It is still too early to say exactly how this summer’s events will pan out, but chances are Tokyo will be a very different experience to any Games that have gone before it.

Performing without crowds is something we are fast becoming accustomed to, but how does the lack of an audience affect riders and horses? Do they notice a difference? Do they really care?

This feature is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (15 April, 2021)

You may also be interested in…