By Shadia Nasralla
(Reuters) - It is not only thousands of athletes who are flying to Tokyo for the Olympic Games but also hundreds of horses.
They will compete with their riders in the three equestrian disciplines dressage, jumping and eventing - the only Olympic sports where men and women compete individually on equal terms.
The horses, each weighing from 510-630 kg, travel in pairs in special flying stables at a fairly chilly 16 degrees Celsius and are accompanied by grooms and veterinarians.
Such an airlift requires specialists. The transport agents in charge of the animals, Peden Bloodstock, have organised Olympic and Paralympic horse transport since 1960.
But it is the first time Tokyo's Haneda airport has handled a full cargo of horses, each worth a fortune.
"These are not simply horses, they are Olympic horses”, said Takahashi Koji, administrator of Tokyo International Airport.
"It’s a really big night for the airport, and particularly for the cargo team, and we see it as one of the major milestones of the final countdown to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games."
This year's first Olympics flight from Europe carried 36 horses from Belgium via Dubai to Tokyo on an 18 hour journey - thankfully horses sleep standing up - also transporting 12,000 kg of feed and 13,500 kg of horse equipment.
The flight included some of the sport's stars, such as mare Bella Rose, the horse on which Germany's Isabell Werth, the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time, will compete.
All horses underwent a 60-day health surveillance period and a seven-day quarantine before the flight.
That was especially important this year after the world of equestrian sports had to battle two diseases in recent months -- the novel coronavirus affecting the riders and the equine herpes virus attacking the horses.
(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Ken Ferris)