Janice Clary Cohen is ready for Sydney.
The Carroll County horsewoman, fresh from judging equestrian events at the 1996 Summer Olympics, said an Australian official told her as they were leaving Atlanta that qualified judges are needed for the next Games.
"If they'll pay my way, I'll be there," Cohen said without hesitation. "Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved horses."
Cohen, 37, was home at Sunny Knoll Farm in Gamber last week and reflected upon her 12-day Olympics experience -- including a might-have-been brush with violence.
Although her rooming expenses would have been paid, Cohen chose to drive 14 hours in a camper and spend the time with her father, her husband and their sons, Brandon, 3, and Justin, 3 months.
The equestrian events were at a newly built facility in Conyers, about 30 miles from Atlanta.
In her element
She arrived at the venue to find about 50,000 spectators on the cross-country course where she was judging, along with NBC and BBC television cameras at the jumps and journalists from England and other horse-loving nations everywhere.
"It was really neat; it was really exciting."
Cohen served as a photojournalist, taking pictures for Equiery, a Mid-Atlantic horse journal. "I did crawl up into the NBC tower and get a picture," she said.
The judges were volunteers but had to have experience in at least five previous international events -- and undergo a security check.
After the Games, she said, "They sent all the volunteers a medal that looks like an Olympic medal." The judges also received turquoise blazers, straw hats and shorts.
"Someone offered $2,000 for the jacket, $500 for the hats," Cohen said in amazement.
But her interest lay in collecting Olympic pins, which drew her to Atlanta and Centennial Park with her husband and toddler the evening of July 26.
They left just three hours before a pipe bomb exploded, causing two deaths and more than 100 injuries.
The morning of their departure, Cohen said they learned about the bombing.
"If we hadn't left, we would have been there," she said. "We were standing right in the spot where they said the bomb went off. Right by the tower where the rock concert was, there was all kinds of pin trading."
She said she isn't sorry they went to Atlanta despite the bomb incident.
"All my life, I've always wanted to do this."
Handling the heat
It was her second trip to the city, she said, because the judges participated in the Atlanta Cup last year -- a practice race on the new Olympic course at Conyers. Planners concerned about the heat talked then about moving the horse events out of Georgia, she said.
But, she said, "The horses actually handled the heat pretty well.
"It's a tough sport. But they had a vet at every fence. They had misting fans set up, plenty of ice."
Judging on toughest day
Cohen was a fence judge for the toughest part of the toughest day in the three-day equestrian event, held for both teams and individual riders. The three days include dressage -- "a sort of ballet on horseback" -- show jumping and endurance.
Endurance is the hardest and most important day, she said. The horses trot, complete a high-speed steeplechase and run the cross country section.
"It's a marathon for a horse," she said of the cross country, during which horses are ridden uphill and down, over fences and through water, negotiating about 25 obstacles in about 20 minutes.
As a judge, her job was to watch the horses leap her obstacle, deducting for "refusals" -- when the horse balks at a jump.
Three refusals, and the animal is out.
Her posts included two of the course's most artistic jumps: One consisted of five Olympic rings, with the most difficult -- and highest point-count -- in the center; the second was Hunters' Glen -- nicknamed "the hole" -- a close-fitting rectangle of wood and brush that knocked off one rider's cap.
There were several spills, she said, but no serious injuries.
Australia took the gold medal in the equestrian team three-day event. The United States, with Bruce Davidson and husband-and-wife David and Karen O'Connor, edged New Zealand to win the silver.
A state winner
"I'm not at the Olympic level," said Cohen, but she has won several state awards and has been training horses professionally for 20 years, since she was a teen-ager in Baltimore County.
"I saved up my baby-sitting money to buy my first horse when I was 13 years old -- a little pony. I always worked off my board, cleaning stables."
She joined a 4-H Club in Randallstown and won an award with her pony when she was 14. "Then, the 4-H leader asked me to train her horses -- and since then I've been doing it a long time."
She went to college, majoring in mass communications at Towson State University, "but all I ever wanted to do was horses. It's a hard way to make a living, a lot of physical work."
At Sunny Knoll Farm, adjacent to Liberty Reservoir, she boards and trains horses and has a 16-stall barn, an indoor riding ring and some cross country jumps -- with plans for more.
Brandon already rides and has two ponies.
"The jumps start at 18 inches, so we have all levels," Cohen said. "You have to start somewhere."
Pub Date: 8/12/96