When you invite thousands of people from around the world to visit your home, the question is always in the back of your mind: What do they think?
Since the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games began 10 days ago, I have been asking international athletes, team officials, journalists and spectators what they think of the Games, Kentucky and its people.
The answers have been remarkably consistent — and overwhelmingly positive, except for a few complaints about some price-gouging or the occasional glitch.
The first thing everyone comments on is the Kentucky Horse Park, with "fantastic" being the most common adjective. Athletes and team officials especially like having all of the venues in one place — even though the park's vast size means a lot of walking.
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The next thing mentioned is the friendliness and genuine hospitality of Kentuckians — from the army of always-cheerful WEG volunteers to folks on the street.
"We haven't met a sour-faced person yet," Canadian spectator Jan Simmonds said, then gave me a sly smile. "Oh, wait, I did see one lady frowning yesterday."
Games officials are getting high marks for organization, even if some Europeans don't think they are quite up to the German efficiency of the 2006 Aachen Games, which were at a much smaller park.
"Very, very good organization and very friendly people," said Miguel Angel Cardenas of Seville, breeder of the top Spanish dressage horse Fuego XII. How do these Games compare with the 2002 Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain? "This is bigger and better," he said.
Oliver Lazarus, a show jumping competitor from South Africa taking part in his first World Games, rode the LexTran shuttle with his mother and grandmother one day last week.
"We came into the city to have a look, and it's really nice. I'm enjoying it a lot," said Lazarus. "Three people came up and introduced themselves and asked if we were having a good time."
'Loads of fun'
Annika Wulff of Sweden was getting to see more of Kentucky than many international visitors. She had rented a car and was staying at a bed-and-breakfast in Mount Sterling.
"It's a lovely, lovely place, and all of the people are so friendly," Wulff said. "We like Kentucky very much."
Simmonds, Joann Beger and Chris Collins came down from Edmonton, Alberta, and were having a terrific time. The three friends were staying in a guest house and trying a different restaurant each night.
They took a carriage ride around downtown one evening — "We felt so elegant!" Beger said — and planned to visit a couple of art museums and take in a performance of La Bohème at the Opera House.
"We've just had loads of fun," Beger said. "We're just overwhelmed by the hospitality."
The only significant complaints I heard were about the high prices of food at the Games and expensive rates for mediocre motel rooms around Central Kentucky.
Lodging was a sore point for some international journalists, who were paying high rates for normally budget-priced motels in Richmond and taking WEG shuttles to the Horse Park. (Officials had tried to house the media in Lexington but couldn't find enough hotels willing to negotiate acceptable rates.)
'Cold, then hot'
Just like many Kentuckians, internationals find the weather this time of year baffling. "It is cold, then hot, in the same day," said Yasukazu Chatani, an eventing manager with Japan's team.
Michael Barnes, a salesman from Sydney, Australia, had to be in the United States for a couple of trade shows and came to the Games while he had a few days free. Having been to the last two Kentucky Derbys, he was worried about traffic snarls and shuttle bus snafus.
"To be honest, I was concerned about the infrastructure," he said. But Barnes was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the Games were running and by the fast, efficient and cheap LexTran shuttles.
"The Games are great, and the countryside around here is just stunning," he said.
Barnes noted that this past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the close of Sydney's 2000 Olympic Games, the success of which brought an enormous boost in civic confidence. He predicted the same for Lexington.
"It boosted our confidence because Sydney was able to pull it off," he said. "Kentucky seems to be pulling this off quite well."