In terms of the actual race, I think Malaysia' WEC has also set a new standard. The statistics this event was on par with previous FEI World Endurance Championships. The completion rate was 38% (Aachen 2006 was 40%, Dubai 2004 was 36%), the winning time was surprisingly fast - 8:48 at 18.16km/hr (Aachen was just 9:12 hours at 17.38km/hr). But what makes these race statistics so remarkable were the results, relative to the expectations and the fears. And, of the greatest significance, there were no horses requiring serious treatment. The biggest concern that the FEI had regarding the final determination to sanction a WEC in the tropics was that the combination of speed and heat and humidity could prove overly harmful to the horse - that if this event resulted in any horse fatalities or in an abundance of over stressed horses it would cancel all of the progress that Endurance has made over the past years in gaining a valid place in the world of FEI - of International equestrian sports.
In fact, this event may well have clinched the validity and acceptance of Endurance in the world of FEI sport. The results proved that Endurance has matured as a sport in terms of 1. the ability of the rider to race responsibly, 2. the athleticism of the horse in it's ability to perform and remain healthy, and 3. the management and oversight of the FEI in it's capacity to govern the sport at the highest level - in a manner which provides for fair competition and most importantly protects the horse.
By any standards this event was a tremendous success. I asked Ian Williams (FEI director for non-Olympic sports ) for a quick evaluation after the race. He didn't hesitate: "stunning" "superlative" "impressive" ! He commented that the venue, the organization, the effort and achievement was amazing, an absolute success. And it was.
This event also represented a landmark in publicity for Endurance. This was the first time that ESPN provided live coverage of Endurance. And they managed to make it exciting! By filming the first 2 hours (daylight) and the final 2 hours (also daylight) they were able to capture the drama of Endurance competition -(the excitement of the start, the emotion of the finish) and to avoid the hours of tedium (enduring) from the 25 mile mark to the 75 mile mark, where the real work is done, the battle for time and placement is primarily fought, but for the spectator it all looks rather tedious!
In terms of organization - it was the result of a very committed and competent team, and an abundance of people and resources. The interior Sports Ministry of Malaysia, the State of Terengganu, the military, the Mounted Police, the Royal Foundation of Terengganu (Tuanku/Sultan Mizan foundation), the Malaysian Equestrian Federation... this list goes on. I don't know what the final budget was for the event. When I asked Dato' Salleh - Chair of the WEC Organizing Committee what the budget was he smiled in that very Malaysian way (gracious yet revealing little :) and said 'a bit'. I heard the number one hundred million ringets tossed around by a few (that's about 30 million USD) - and I could believe it. I also 'heard' that ESPN alone cost close to 9 million...
It was an exceptionally run equestrian event, but it was also much more. It was a Malaysian Happening - a display of National pride; Malaysia welcoming the world in their very gracious and competent way. The small things, the little touches were everywhere. Things that require an attention to detail, and a true desire to make everybody feel welcome and well looked after. A taste of the art, beauty and spirituality of Asia - the serenity, the hospitality, the culture of revering one's guest. All of this was embodied in many different ways.
And the attention to detail, and ability to communicate was outstanding. A little pocket sized information booklet was given to everybody and contained almost all of the information the various riders, teams, chefs, etc would need to know about: dining, accommodation, transportation, logistics, several pages with complete track information including ride time from point to point at various speeds, crew points, water points, start times, distances, etc etc. There was a bulletin board in a central location for announcements and notices, the offices were always open, and willing to answer questions. Press, transportation, drivers, logistics, stewards - everybody that was involved with the organization had a brightly colored tshirt - it was easy to find a person to ask a question of, and easy to eventually identify the person that could best answer your question. And there was constant air of politeness. If people were tired or short tempered they didn't show.
Malaysian people have a milder culture than those of the western world - less anxious and energized, much slower in movement and softer in language, quicker to smile, perhaps less confrontational and more deferential, but they also 'get it'. They understand how the rest of the world functions, and they seem to be masters at making things happen.
And I still marvel at the love and reverence that Malaysians have for their King. I think that Tuanku Mizan is very special, even among Kings, with a very special wife and family. He is young, sporting, quick to smile, easy to talk to. His people absolutely adore him, and perhaps this has also contributed to the total success of the 2008 WEC. For many of the WEC force, their dedication to excellence goes beyond just doing their job, to doing it out of love for their King. I think that's a hard thing for most of us to understand - to have a person, as a symbol of uncomplicated allegiance and reverence. Beyond the politics, beyond the scope of life's daily grind. More like a movie star in some ways, a John Wayne. Or a religious figure. But with a deep history, centuries. It still surprised me at times to be having a conversion with 'regular folks' and have them make a reference to 'my King' with a look in their eyes that spoke of a depth of love and respect that we rarely see in other cultures.
I really can't say enough about the effort that went into this event, and the practically perfect result. I have watched from the beginning, and have been involved at some level with the core group of Malaysians that set the whole thing in motion to begin with. A clever and persistent group.