Fed Cup 2019: U.S. returns with sport's young talent

Fed Cup: Even sans Venus and Serena, young U.S. team ready to take the torch, captain says

ASHEVILLE — U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi came to Asheville a year ago accompanied by two of the biggest stars tennis has ever known. When she returns next week, she won't be. 

But even without Venus and Serena Williams, Rinaldi said the U.S. squad returning to Western North Carolina to take on Australia in the first round of Fed Cup is ripe with young talent that could be a force for years to come. It is headlined by the world's 17th-ranked singles player, Madison Keys, and Danielle Collins, who Rinaldi says had a "breakthrough" last year culminating in a January appearance in the Australian Open semifinals.

The team also includes Sofia Kenin, the world's 36th-ranked player who goes by "Sonya," and Nicole Melichar, who, like Rinaldi, grew up in Stuart, Florida, crossing paths on the court dating back to when Melichar was a child.

The event also is expected to draw sold-out crowds, boost the local economy and again put Asheville in the spotlight for hosting a prominent sporting event. 

"We do have some youngsters — even younger than (the current roster) — coming up through the ranks and the pathway is solid, the structure is pretty good and we hope these players, the young ones will keep stepping up," Rinaldi said. "Venus and Serena (have been) holding the torch for so long and have done so much for American tennis that it’s nice now to have some younger players able to step up."

This year is Rinaldi's third leading the U.S. Fed Cup team, winning a title in 2017 and finishing as runner-up to the Czech Republic a year ago. She said last year's team — which came to Asheville featuring the Williams sisters, CoCo Vandeweghe and Lauren Davis — had an "absolutely amazing" experience.

Last year's U.S. team cruised to a 3-1 first round Fed Cup win over the Netherlands, most notable as it marked Serena Williams' return to competitive tennis following the birth of a child with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Rinaldi said it "should speak volumes" that Fed Cup returned to Asheville in consecutive years, the first city to host back-to-back in more than a decade. She and members of the U.S. team took part in the event's weeklong festivities a year ago, shared time together at the Omni Grove Park Inn and even toured Biltmore Estate.

"You could just feel it everywhere, every corner," she said. "Everybody was excited that Fed Cup was there. It just meant something, whether they were a tennis fan or they were not — all ages.

"That’s what makes Fed Cup so special, and I think Asheville just showed what Fed Cup is all about."

In October, U.S. Tennis Association Senior Director of Team Events Jeff Ryan said the decision to come back to Asheville this year ultimately was "very easy," citing the city's passion for the sport and its partnerships with local entities including with Explore Asheville and U.S. Cellular General Manager Chris Corl.

Corl said this week hosting last year's Fed Cup already has opened the door for the city and the venue to have conversations about other major sporting events.

Major renovations to the arena, which opened in June 1974, also are a contributing factor, he said. 

"The conversation is a lot easier to get started," Corl said. "Before, it was 15 phone calls and 20 emails and I would nag them to get on the phone. Now I send an email and I just say, 'Would like you to consider us?'"

And part of that selling point also comes with the experience of hosting an event like Fed Cup.

"Not only should you consider it, but one of the larger sporting entities came back two years in a row, which is something they don’t do," he said.

Most of the team and USTA representatives are expected to arrive in the community early next week. Tennis exhibitions for local school students are planned for Feb 6-8 at the U.S. Cellular Center with the event's draw ceremony planned for Feb. 8. Other outreach clinics, which are expected to draw more than 1,000 children, are scheduled during the week. 

Fed Cup play is Feb. 9-10. Tickets for the event still are available online at ticketmaster.com.

"We know we’re going to have a lot of support behind us and that really counts a lot in Fed Cup play because anything can happen," Rinaldi said. "It’s always nice to play in front of your home country and the fans there were so great to us last year, the community was so great to us.

"We’re all excited to get back and have that support and feel that support."

By Dillon Davis, Asheville Citizen Times

Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin, Nicole Melichar to Represent U.S. in 2019 Fed Cup First Round vs. Australia

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., January 30, 2019 – The USTA and United States Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi today announced that No. 17 Madison Keys, No. 23 Danielle Collins, No. 36 Sofia Kenin and doubles No. 13 Nicole Melichar will represent the U.S. in the 2019 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group First Round vs. Australia February 9-10 in Asheville, N.C.

World singles No. 14 and doubles No. 6 Ashleigh Barty, No. 46 Daria Gavrilova, No. 142 Priscilla Hon, No. 157 Kimberley Birrell and No. 160 Astra Sharma will represent Australia for Captain Alicia Molik in the best-of-five match series, which will be played on a hard court inside Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center. The U.S. Cellular Center was the site of the U.S. team’s First-Round victory over the Netherlands last year and is the first site to host consecutive Fed Cup ties in the U.S. in 12 years.

Play will begin at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s two singles matches will pit each country’s No. 1 player against the other’s No. 2. Sunday will feature the two reverse singles matches –No. 1 vs. No. 1; No. 2 vs. No. 2 – followed by a possible fifth-and-decisive doubles match. A revised schedule for Sunday may take place if a team clinches in the third or fourth match. The matchups and order of play for the weekend’s matches will be determined at the official draw ceremony, which will be held at 12 p.m. on Friday, February 8, in the U.S. Cellular Center lobby.

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com. Tennis Channel and Stadium will present live daily coverage nationally in the U.S., while WLOS-TV will carry the matches locally in Asheville.

The U.S. is 9-5 all-time vs. the Aussies and won their last meeting, 4-0, in the 2016 World Group Playoff. Prior to that, the two countries hadn’t met in Fed Cup since 1985. The winner of this matchup will advance to the Semifinals April 20-21 to play the winner of Germany and Belarus.

Keys, 23, will be appearing in her fifth U.S. Fed Cup tie, after sending the U.S. to its second straight Fed Cup Final last year with a tie-clinching singles win in the Semifinals vs. France. A 2017 US Open finalist and career-high world No. 7, Keys reached the semifinals at both the US Open and French Open and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2018.

Collins, 25, was a breakout star of the 2019 Australian Open, reaching the semifinals in her first main-draw appearance in Melbourne. A two-time NCAA singles champion at the University of Virginia, Collins earned her debut U.S. Fed Cup nomination for the 2018 Final vs. the Czech Republic in Prague last November after a year in which she rose more than 130 spots in the WTA rankings.

Kenin, 20, is the youngest player in the Top 40 and began the 2019 season by winning her first WTA doubles and singles titles in consecutive weeks, in Brisbane and Hobart, respectively. Kenin made her Fed Cup debut in the 2018 Final in Prague as a 19-year old, only the third U.S. teen to make their debut in a Fed Cup Final, and spent 6 1⁄2 hours on court over two singles matches, including a 3 hour, 45-minute thriller vs. Katerina Siniakova in the deciding singles match.

Melichar, 25, is the top-ranked American in women’s doubles and won her fourth career WTA doubles title in Brisbane to start 2019. In 2018, she reached the Wimbledon doubles final and earned her debut Fed Cup nomination for the Final vs. the Czech Republic in Prague.

The USTA has partnered with Explore Asheville, Ingles Markets, Mercedes Benz of Asheville, Mission Health, New Belgium Brewing Company and the Omni Grove Park Inn to bring this event to Asheville. Last year’s tie generated an estimated $3.5 million economic impact on the region, and this year’s tie will feature a variety of community and kids’ events that will once again turn the competition into a weeklong celebration of tennis.

Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with approximately 100 nations taking part each year. The U.S. holds an overall 151-37 record in Fed Cup competition with a 41-6 record in home ties. For more information, including access to player and historical Fed Cup records, please go to www.usta.com/fedcup or www.fedcup.com.

Keep up with Team USA using hashtag #TeamUSATennis on Facebook (@USTA), on Twitter (@USTA), and on Instagram (@USTA). Wilson is the official ball of the U.S. Fed Cup team. Deloitte is the official team sponsor of the U.S. Fed Cup Team.

United States Tennis Association

Farm To Fork Fondo Expands To Asheville And Louisville In 2019

We're very excited to announce not just one but two brand new events for 2019: Farm to Fork Fondo – Asheville on June 29 & 30 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, NC and Farm to Fork Fondo – Louisville on October 19 & 20 at the world-class equine operation Hermitage Farm in Goshen, KY.

FARM TO FORK FONDO - ASHEVILLE

The Asheville event will be the second stop of our 2019 Farm to Fork Fondo season and will highlight the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of the vibrant city of Asheville. Fairview is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and filled with picturesque farmland and the edible adventures along the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail. 

Family-owned and operated, Hickory Nut Gap Farm will host all the festivities including a Meet the Farmers Dinner on June 29 where participants can dine with the participating farm families hosting aid stations along the ride routes. Hickory Nut Gap Farm will also host the start/finish on Sunday, June 30. Participants can expect rolling to hilly terrain in Asheville. 

In the Asheville area you’ll find an abundance of independent shops, farm-fresh eateries, and a remarkably distinctive mountain vibe is what you will expect as you stroll through the vibrant entertainment hub in the heart of Asheville. The passionate food culture has evolved the region's restaurants palate, and chefs are now seeking out sustainable food to provide farm-to-table restaurant experiences. Hickory Nut Gap Farm is both a destination and a source with pasture raised meats, agritourism, and other agricultural pursuits.

Fall in love with the land's gently rolling pastures that cradle herds of grass-fed cattle, pastured pigs, and free-range laying hens just as founders Jim and Elizabeth McClure did 100 yeas ago.

FARM TO FORK FONDO - LOUISVILLE

Our 2019 season will also extend just outside the home of the Kentucky Derby, and birthplace of Bourbon at historic Hermitage Farm in Goshen, Kentucky. With roots that span generations, Hermitage is a world-class equine operation tied in Kentucky’s rich farming industry. Purchased in the 1800’s as part of a land grant, Hermitage has been a working farm for nearly two centuries. Ride alongside renowned broodmares, foals, and yearlings that graze the land.

Hermitage will host all the festivities including a Meet the Farmers Dinner on October 19 where participants can dine with the participating farm families. Hermitage will also host the start/finish for the ride on Sunday October 20. Participants can expect flat to rolling terrain. 

Louisville is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiast because it prides itself on its green space. The city is home to 18-designed Frederick Law Olmsted parks. Spend your evening exploring the culinary capital of bourbon country, sipping Whiskey and indulging in famous Kentucky fried chicken.

Both rides will include the standard 4 Farm to Fork Fondo distances from an 8-10 mile Ramble Ride to a 70-90 mile Gran Fondo. Following the ride will be a catered farm-to-table barbecue and festival featuring live music and local vendors.

STAY TUNED

In the coming weeks and months, we will be revealing details on new course routes, partner farms, full weekend schedules, menus, lodging, and more!

Momentum builds for Asheville to host more world-class sports events like Fed Cup

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — Momentum is building for Asheville hosting high-profile sporting events.

The FED Cup, featuring Venus and Serena Williams, is the highest profile sports event in the city's history to date.

The commission celebrated all 2018 successes, and honored board members, including Bruce Peterson, who was instrumental in Asheville hosting the Fed Cup.

"I agree it's the best event we've ever put on in Asheville," Peterson said of the Cup. "Last year we did such a great job they called and said, 'We want to come back,' and that was significant. I think last year Serena made the comment, 'Why don't we do this in Asheville every year?" so that was wonderful."

Peterson says $20 million came into Buncombe County's economy this year.

By WLOS STAFF

Tickets for SoCon Basketball Championships now on sale

Tournaments return to Asheville, N.C.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Tickets for the 2019 Ingles Southern Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships presented by General Shale are now on sale through Ticketmaster and the U.S. Cellular Center Box Office. The tournaments return to Asheville, North Carolina, and the U.S. Cellular Center for the seventh consecutive year.

All 10 SoCon men’s teams and all eight women’s teams will converge on Asheville for the tournaments, which begin with the women’s quarterfinals on Thursday, March 7. The women’s final will be Sunday, March 10, at noon Eastern, while the men’s final will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 11. Mercer is the defending women’s champion and UNC Greensboro is the defending men’s champion.

The tournament week will feature the return of the Downtown Dribble on the morning of Saturday, March 9, and the third annual Ingles Jamfest, a free concert and tailgate on March 10.

Several different ticket packages are available for purchase. Information about various ticket packages and how to purchase them is below.

Courtside Package (All Sessions - $800)

Contact Madison Davis at 828-734-2433 or email madison@ashevillesports.org.

This courtside VIP experience allows you to be part of the action. This package includes 2 Premium Courtside seats, 2 VIP passes, and a parking space in the exhibition level of the USCC for every session. There are a limited number of seats available.

VIP All-Session Package (All Sessions - $250)

Call the box office at 828-259-5736 or email Laura Weston, lweston@ashevillenc.gov.

Enjoy a reserved seat close the action and VIP Hospitality access. VIP Hospitality will open one hour prior to each session and will include pre-game meals and complimentary beer and wine. 

General Admission Tournament Book - $120

Available through Ticketmaster or the U.S. Cellular Center Box Office (828-259-5736)

General Admission Single Session - $20

Available through Ticketmaster or the U.S. Cellular Center Box Office (828-259-5736)

Youth (6-12)/SoCon Student Single Session - $10 (kids 5 and under get in free)

Available at U.S. Cellular Center Box Office (828-259-5736)

Single Session Group Rate (10 or more tickets to a single session) - $15 per ticket

Contact Andrew Lawrence at 919-418-6545 or email andrew@ashevillesports.org.

 

www.SoConSports.com

U.S. FED CUP TEAM TO RETURN TO ASHEVILLE FOR 2019 FED CUP FIRST ROUND vs. AUSTRALIA FEBRUARY 9-10

U.S. Cellular Center to Become First Repeat Host Site for U.S. Fed Cup Team in 12 Years on Heels of 2018 First-Round Success

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Oct. 30, 2018 – The USTA today announced that the U.S. Fed Cup Team will return to Asheville, N.C., for the second consecutive year, as the U.S. Cellular Center has been selected to host the United States’ Fed Cup by BNP Paribas 2019 First Round tie vs. Australia February 9-10.

 The U.S. Cellular Center will become the first site to host consecutive Fed Cup ties in the U.S. since the Delray Beach (Fla.) Tennis Center in 2005-07. The U.S. Cellular Center hosted the U.S.’s First Round tie vs. the Netherlands this February in what amounted to a weeklong celebration of tennis in the region. The tie generated an estimated $3.5 million economic impact for the area, and sellout crowds saw the U.S. defeat the Netherlands to begin its 2018 Fed Cup title defense.

 The U.S. Fed Cup Team will attempt to win its second straight Fed Cup title November 10-11, taking on the Czech Republic in the Final in Prague. A free and open-to-the-public watch party for the Final will be held at New Belgium Brewing Company from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, November 10. The Final matches will be televised live on Tennis Channel beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday and 6 a.m. ET on Sunday.

 The First Round against Australia – a best-of-five match series – begins Saturday, Feb. 9, with two singles matches. Two reverse singles matches and the doubles match will follow on Sunday, Feb. 10. Matches will be played on a temporary indoor hard court. The winner of this matchup will advance to the Semifinals April 20-21. Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with approximately 100 nations taking part each year.

 Tickets will go on sale to the general public on November 2 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com. Two-day ticket packages for both Saturday and Sunday – the best initial ticket value – will be sold at prices ranging from $50 to $250, or $25 to $125 per day. Single-day tickets for Saturday or Sunday will be sold with prices ranging from $30 to $135 per day. Visit usta.com/fedcup for more information.

 USTA members will have the opportunity to purchase tickets in advance through an exclusive presale beginning October 30 and running through November 1, or while supplies last.

 "We couldn’t be happier to be bringing Fed Cup back to Asheville,” said USTA Chairman of the Board and President Katrina Adams. "Everything about the First Round tie vs. the Netherlands earlier this year was incredible, from our local business partners to the staff at the U.S. Cellular Center to the local volunteers and the enthusiastic community that cheered us on to victory. Asheville made for a perfect Fed Cup host, and we look forward to coming back.”

 The U.S. was drawn to host Australia for the 2019 World Group First Round when the draw took place in July. The U.S. is 9-5 all-time vs. the Aussies, and won their last meeting, 4-0, in the 2016 World Group Playoff. Prior to that, the two countries hadn’t met in Fed Cup since 1985.

 The USTA has partnered with Explore Asheville, Ingles Markets, Mercedes Benz of Asheville, the Omni Grove Park Inn and New Belgium Brewing Company to bring this event to Asheville.

 “I'm honored that Asheville has been chosen to host the Fed Cup for the second year in a row,” Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said. “What a great opportunity to see these top athletes compete live, right here in downtown Asheville.”

 "The U.S. Cellular Center is honored to play host to this First Round Fed Cup event for the second year in a row,” said U.S. Cellular Center General Manager Chris Corl. “The community support and professionalism of the USTA staff, contractors, sponsors and local organizing committee, all of whom came together to make this event successful in 2018, was unprecedented here in Asheville.  We are looking forward to doing it again in a bigger and better way."

 The site selection is subject to final approval by the ITF. Tennis Channel will present live daily coverage of the World Group First Round.

 The U.S. holds an overall 151-36 record in Fed Cup competition with a 41-6 record in home ties. For more information, including access to player and historical Fed Cup records, please go to www.usta.com/fedcup or www.fedcup.com.

 Keep up with Team USA using hashtag #TeamUSATennis on Facebook (@USTA), on Twitter (@USTA), and on Instagram (@USTA). Wilson is the official ball of the U.S. Fed Cup team. Deloitte is the official team sponsor of the U.S. Fed Cup Team.

Inaugural "Special Needs World Series" a home run for everyone

Candler — WLOS - With the calendar about to officially flip to October, Major League Baseball will begin the playoff push towards the World Series. Special Needs Sports of WNC took the last Sunday in September to have their own championship, inviting special needs athletes and their families to Bob Lewis Park in Candler for a day filled with home runs and smiles. "It just gives them a chance to get out, do things that they normally don't have the opportunity to do, but mostly just to feel included," said Donnie Jones, the founder of Special Needs Sports WNC. "That's all anybody wants in anything." He added that the group has grown from around 40 the first year to 165 this season.

Anyone with special needs, regardless of age or disability, were invited to participate. Every player got to bat and round the bases as hundreds cheered them on and accompanied them around the diamond. "It's fun to be out with friends and teammates and athletes," said James Converse, one of the participants.

Martha Scott is the guardian of Terronionia, who uses a wheelchair to get around. "We went one week to watch, and I said, 'Terrionia, I think we could do that,'" laughed Scott. "So, we started the next week. That was back in 2011, and we have been playing every spring and fall since then."

Jones' teams usually practice and play in Hendersonville, but believes the opportunity to play at a world-class facility like Bob Lewis Park will be a memorable experience for all involved. "When you see their faces, it means more to me to see them, I think, than it does to them," he said.

Chris Womack

Sunday, September 30th 2018

Andrew Institute / Headlock on Hunger Presents Inaugural National Wrestling Coaches Association CEO Leadership Academy This Saturday

(Asheville, NC) No matter where it is- in business, education, public service, or athletics, everything rises and falls on its leadership. That has been the guiding premise for the past decade of the Andrew Institute for Leadership and Public Service that has brought world renowned  leaders into our community that not only brought their thoughts, expertise, and encouragement to established and aspiring leaders but focuses on the most important part of leadership - serving others. 

This Saturday, the Andrew Institute for Leadership and Public Service, Headlock on Hunger, the Eblen Center for Social Enterprise, and WNC Wrestlers in Business, will be presenting the Inaugural National Wrestling Coaches Association CEO Leadership Academy at the Waddell Client Service Center in Asheville. 

Developed by Michigan State's Dr. Dan Gould and modeled after the NWCA's College CEO Academy, the Scholastic CEO Academy was created to help wrestling coaches in many critical areas such as:  fundraising, recruitment and retention of athletes, communication strategies, working effectively with parents, and leading as a transformational wrestling coach.  

The five-hour program is offered at no cost thanks to the sponsorship of the National Wrestling Coaches Association and the US Marine Corps. 

“We are honored to have the Andrew Institute and Headlock on Hunger to be part of this inaugural event.” states Bill Murdock, executive director of Eblen Charities. “The wrestling community has been such a big part of Eblen’s outreach since our beginning and we are very happy to help present this great event to continue our partnership with wresting for Headlock and bring the best leadership programs to so many through the Andrew Institute. We are grateful to Mark Harris, regional chairman of Headlock on Hunger and Head Wrestling Coach of Enka High School for his hard work and bringing us this great opportunity.”  

Our appreciation to our Headlock on Hunger partners Arby’s, the Brumit Restaurant Group, Ingles Markets, and Pepsi for helping to provide more than three million meals in the past four years and for making this new event to North Carolina and Asheville. If you would like further information regarding the NWCA CEO Leadership Academy or Headlock on Hunger, please contact Mark Harris at 828.231.7933 or mark.harris@bcsemail.org.

Asheville Tourists, 12 other Carolina teams support Florence relief with 'Carolina Strong'

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The Asheville Tourists, along with other baseball teams, are coming together to help with Florence recovery efforts.

Thirteen minor league teams are involved in both North and South Carolina.

The Asheville Tourists, Burlington Royals, Carolina Mudcats, Charleston RiverDogs, Charlotte Knights, Columbia Fireflies, Down East Wood Ducks, Durham Bulls, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Hickory Crawdads, Kannapolis Intimidators, Myrtle Beach Pelicans and Winston-Salem Dash announced today that they have created a joint GoFundMe page, raising funds for branches of the American Red Cross in affected areas of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Their effort is called the "Carolina Strong Relief Fund."

The thirteen-team dual state alliance will work together to maximize fundraising efforts across the state, using the hashtag #CarolinaStrong.

Both states have received unprecedented rainfall and flooding from a tropical cyclone, and hundreds of miles of roads were closed in each state.

"We've seen time and again that the residents of North and South Carolina are strong and resilient. In difficult times we stand by one another and lift up those in need. This time won't be any different," said the General Managers of the 13 MiLB teams in a joint statement. 

According to a press release, funds raised through this campaign will be donated to the American Red Cross in affected areas of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Breakdown of the World Equestrian Games events

TRYON – While rodeo sports like barrel racing and bull riding are branded into the collective American brain, the more obscure equestrian disciplines of dressage, vaulting and eventing, and their associated rider get-ups like top hats, tails and leotards, might take a little getting used to.

The FEI World Equestrian Games, the biggest horse riding sport on the planet, will take over the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Polk County Sept. 11-23 with eight disciplines sanctioned by the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the global governing body for equestrian sports.

The WEG are held every four years in the middle of the Olympics cycle.

The FEI will award individual and team gold, silver and bronze medals for each discipline: Dressage, para-dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting.

Michael Stone, president of the WEG Organizing Committee, said although some of these sports might not be the stuff of coffee house talk in Western North Carolina, they are well known in Europe, like his native Ireland, as well as South America, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East.

“The most popular discipline from a horse point of view is dressage, especially dressage to music, called the freestyle. It’s a bit like ice skating to music,” Stone said. 

“For the more general public, eventing is the most exciting. They go out onto the old golf course, jump huge, solid obstacles really fast. It’s a really exciting, entertaining event. They jump into water, jump out of water, up and over banks. The course is about 5,500 yards and it’s out in the countryside. It’s absolutely beautiful." 

If you only have time or money for one day at the World Equestrian Games, Stone recommends getting a ticket to eventing.

Dressage, along with para-dressage, jumping and eventing are Olympic events. The World Equestrian Games will serve as the first opportunity for U.S. athletes to secure team spots in these disciplines at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

For the other four disciplines, the WEG are the pinnacle of the sport, serving as the World Championships.

The Games are bringing some 839 athletes and their horses from six continents and 71 countries, Stone said, all at the top of their sports.

What is interesting to note is that men and women compete on equal footing, so to speak, in equestrian events.

“It’s a level playing field. Men and women compete against one another. The only discipline that breaks it up a little is vaulting, because there is an individual male and individual female competition, but those scores come together for the team score,” said Julian McPeak, marketing and communications director for U.S. Equestrian Federation, the sport’s national governing body, based in Lexington, Kentucky.

“It’s very unusual for the sporting world. Equestrian is one of only two Olympic disciplines that works like this – sailing is the other,” she said.

Get to know your World Equestrian Game disciplines

Dressage

Dressage, which has roots in ancient Greece, is considered the highest expression of horse training. The term “dressage” means “training” in French.

The horse has to perform at a walk, trot and canter, and all tests are ridden from memory, following a prescribed pattern of movements. The only exception is the freestyle, which is specially choreographed for each horse and is performed to music.

Experts say that dressage is the most technically difficult of the equestrian disciplines, but perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing. In addition to the ballet-like movements of the horses, the riders adhere to a strict dress code that includes black or dark top hat and tail coat or jacket, white pants and gloves.

“It’s quite technical to understand it. It’s beautiful to watch. The horses are really beautiful. The athletes are all dressed up in top hat and tails. It’s a really elegant sport,” Stone said. “But to really follow it, you need to understand it.”

Horse and rider are evaluated subjectively by a seven-judge panel, much like in ice skating, on their almost imperceptible communication by which the rider uses his or her hands, legs and weight in the seat lead the horse through a series of movements or “tests."

The dressage challenges are divided into three categories: the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the highlight, the Grand Prix Freestyle, in which each team performs a routine to its chosen musical composition.

The first day of competition features the Grand Prix – the highest level of competition. It  is a test composed of movements that include passage (a powerful trot); piaffe (a slow, elevated trot in place, or not moving forward); pirouette (a circle the horse makes with its front end around a smaller circle made by the hind end); and flying changes (when the horses front and hind legs change leads at the same time).

The Helgstrand Dressage takes place over four days, Sept. 12-14 and 16. Points are tallied for an overall percentage. All dressage events will be held in the main stadium, rain or shine.

Para-dressage

Para-dressage is the only equestrian event included in the Paralympic Games. The discipline has the same basic rules as conventional dressage, but the riders are divided into different competition grades based on their functional abilities, Stone said.

“Some people have lost a leg or both legs or an arm or are blind, or have multiple sclerosis, and classified into similar groups to ride against each other,” Stone said. “It’s a really emotional event to watch.”

Para-dressage became the eighth FEI-regulated discipline in 2006 and joined the World Equestrian Games four years later, creating one of the few sporting competitions in the world featuring events for both able-bodied athletes and those with impairments.

The Adequan Para-Dressage competitors are tested on a series of moves at different paces depending on their physical ability, with some being judged at the walk, trot and canter, some at just the walk and trot, and others only at walking speed.

Competition takes place over four days, Sept. 18, 19, 21 and 22.

Driving

This is a full-throttle event in which a three-member team work together to navigate a carriage pulled by four horses, also known as four-in-hand, and encompasses three phases of competitions in three different types of carriages spread over three days: Dressage, Marathon and Cones.

According to the FEI, dressage involves performing a sequence of compulsory figures within a 100-by-40-meter rectangle. Movements, which must be executed from memory, include speed and gait transitions, circles of different sizes and halts.

The marathon is a "spectacular" time trial run over a course including natural hazards such as sharp turns, water and steep hills, and artificial ones such as labyrinths. It tests the horses’ fitness and stamina and the driver’s judgment of pace and horse control.

Obstacle driving – or cones – tests the fitness, obedience and suppleness of the horses after the marathon, as well as the skill and competence of the driver who must weave cleanly through a narrow track outlined by cones with balls balanced on top.

“If they hit a cone and the tennis ball falls off, they get penalized. Whoever goes the fastest and has the fewest penalties wins,” he said.

The event takes place Sept. 21-23 in the new driving stadium.

Endurance

Endurance, which takes place Sept. 12, is a long-distance race against the clock featuring one day, one horse and 100 miles, in the ultimate test of the partnership between horse and rider.

Riders go out in 25-mile loops through North and South Carolina, then stop for mandatory rests and a wide range of veterinary checks, Stone said, to ensure the horse’s and rider’s welfare over such a long distance.

“If a horse is a bit lame, has metabolic issues, if its heart rate is too high, they get taken out,” he said. “It’s a pretty simple competition.”

Endurance tests the speed and stamina of a horse and challenges the rider over their effective use of pace, thorough knowledge of their horse’s capabilities and ability to cross all kinds of terrain. Although the rides are timed, the emphasis is on finishing in good condition rather than coming in first, according to FEI.

Endurance started as a sport in the United States, as a way for the U.S. cavalry to test its horses on a five-day, 300-mile ride. It became a competitive sport in the 1950s.

The track features natural terrain, starting and finishing on the TIEC main property, allowing easy access for spectators to catch the racy thrills up close.

Eventing

Eventing, one of the three Olympic equestrian disciplines, is known as the triathlon of the equestrian world. Competition is held over three days in dressage, cross-country, and jumping, with the same horse for each phase of competition.

Eventing, which is sponsored by Mars, Inc., tests the horse and rider in all aspects of horsemanship and athleticism.

“It derives from the military. In Europe, the name of the competition is ‘military,’” Stone said.

“The idea was you had a horse you could control during dressage, was strong and fit enough to gallop cross country, but strong enough that even being tired after cross country, it could come out and show jump,” Stone said.

Athletes will ride the same horse over three days. Typically the best eventing horses are Irish Thoroughbreds, Stone said.

Throughout the three days, Sept. 13-15, each phase is scored, and penalties carry over from each day’s round. The goal is to accumulate as few faults as possible over the three days.

Jumping

Jumping, also known in the United States as Show Jumping, is the most popular equestrian sport world-wide, Stone said, inducing lots of spectator breath-holding. It is also an Olympic discipline.

The four-day event builds up to a final on Sept. 23, the last day of competition. Jumping showcases a “spectacular mix of courage, control, and technical ability.” Athletes compete four to a team and one as an individual on a timed course urging their horses over a series of 10 to 13 “knockable” obstacles, or "jumps," some of which may be double or triple combinations, with penalties incurred for each obstacle knocked down or refused.

“They have to leave all the jumps standing. The jumps fall very easily. And they are complicated fences with distances that are irregular,” Stone said.

Fence heights range from 1.55 meters to 1.65 meters (5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches) over the three days of competition. The water jump must be used at least three times and can be no wider than 4 meters (13.1 feet).

The event will take place in the main arena Sept. 19-21 and 23.

Winners are determined by an accumulated score over the course of the days, with penalties for knocking jumps down, or going too slowly.

Reining

Reining is the only FEI World Equestrian Games western discipline, so this is where to get your cowboy fix. Stone calls it a “sort of cowboy dressage,” since the movements come from the working of horses when herding cattle.

It is team and individual judged event, as in dressage, designed to show the athletic ability of ranch-type horses in an arena setting.

Cattle-wrangling movements (without the cattle) include 360-degree spins, where a horse must go round in circles, flying lead changes, fast cantering and slow cantering, and slides – where horses gallop as fast as they can down the arena into a stop where the horse has to slide, while keeping its front feet moving, Stone said.

Instead of fancy coat tails, reining athletes must wear western attire while competing, including a long sleeve shirt with collar, cowboy boots and western hat or safety helmet.

Reining will take place Sept. 12, 13 and 15 in the new indoor arena.

In addition to the sliding and spinning, reining should be popular with an American crowd since the U.S. has dominated the sport for years, Stone said, considering the all-American quarter horse is the best reining horse.

Vaulting

Perhaps the most obscure of equestrian events, vaulting is simply gymnastics on horseback. It has a history as an equestrian act at circuses, but it is at least 2,000 years old.

All vaulting routines - team, individual, and freestyle - are performed by athletes in gymnast uniforms on the back of a cantering horse, traveling in a circle and attached to a lunge line. Competitors are judged on their ability to smoothly execute required movements demonstrating strength, flexibility and balance. The horses are also judged on their performance.

“Most equestrian sports developed from the military. Vaulting was a way of getting military to become comfortable on horses, to jump on and jump off, to build confidence on a horse and to build fitness,” Stone said.

It’s evolved over the years to become one of the most popular spectator sports, and children as young as 10 years old can compete.

“It’s really spectacular. It’s really different,” he said. “It’s not what most people imagine an equestrian sport is.”

If you go..

The FEI World Equestrian Games run from Sept. 11-23 at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Tickets and more information available at tryon2018.com.

Karen Chávez, Asheville Citizen Times