The London 2012 Olympic Games are the perfect setting for a romantic novel, writes Emma Lee-Potter…

There’s a sense of excitement in London ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games. The Olympic Flame has been lit, athletes are training hard and the opening ceremony (which will include cricketers playing on a village green and ploughs tilling the fields) looks set to be spectacular.

But even though the international athletes competing at London 2012 will be ruthlessly competitive on the track, it’s going to be a different story off it.

The Olympic village in east London (complete with shops, cafés, a 5,000-seater dining room, cinema and health spa) will be home to 14,000 athletes in July and August. And once their events are over, the competitors  (especially the young, free and single ones) will have plenty of time to party, have fun and maybe fall in love too.

With that in mind, I reckoned that the Olympics would make the perfect setting for my new romantic novel – Olympic Flames.

Once I’d done a bit of research, I decided to make the two main characters showjumpers, one British, the other American. Why? Because I was intrigued to discover that the three equestrian events – jumping, dressage and eventing – are the only Olympic sports where men and women compete against each other on equal terms. So Mimi Carter and Jack Stone, my hero and heroine, are not only romantically entangled but have to put their feelings aside to compete against each other at the highest level.

Mimi is the youngest member of the British showjumping team and she has battled her way from nowhere to become an elite rider. She’s desperate to win an Olympic gold medal in front of her home crowd, but as the Games begin, she’s beset by a host of problems. Injury threatens and then Jack, the enigmatic old flame who walked out on her without a word several years earlier, suddenly appears back on the showjumping circuit.

One of the most enjoyable things about writing Olympic Flames was learning about the equestrian world. I haven’t ridden a horse since I was about eleven (and I was pretty hopeless at it) but I suddenly found myself immersed in a world of saddles, bridles and terrifyingly high jumps.

I spent a day at Greenwich Park, where all the London 2012 equestrian events will take place. Talk about a showstopper of a location. The arena backs on to the elegant stone façade of the historic National Maritime Museum and will be bordered on all four sides by the flags of the competing nations. The thousands of spectators who have been lucky enough to get tickets for the equestrian events will be able to see sleek city skyscrapers to the north and the historic Royal Observatory to the south. As the opening of the novel says: “ Jack had ridden in some spectacular places in his time but this beat the lot of them.”

I never thought I’d say this, but writing Olympic Flames has been so fascinating that I can’t wait to watch all the Olympic equestrian events for real. At this rate I’m going to end up booking my first riding lesson in years…

Olympic Flames by Emma Lee-Potter

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