Hugh Thomas, the only other Briton to have filled this role, made about 18 trips to Seoul where he designed the excellent cross-country fences for the 1988 Games. He found the experience both daunting and exciting.
"The Olympics are normally held on new sites and you only have one chance to get it right," Thomas said. "So it will be quite a challenge for Mike, but I'm sure he'll do a very good job."
Etherington-Smith, a former competitor, has vast experience of designing courses on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia, where he took over at the Fairbridge event in 1995. At home, he has been responsible for the courses at Blenheim Palace since the first three-day event was held there in 1990.
"Blenheim was a virgin site, as it were. I had to decide where every single thing would go," he said. The experience should stand him in good stead as he surveys the hilly virgin site for the 2000 Olympics.
As in Atlanta, where separate team and individual contests were held for the first time, two different courses will be required. That increases the workload, but unlike Thomas in South Korea, he will at least be working with people who know something about the sport. As an additional advantage, the course builders will include two Englishmen - Alan Willis and his son, James.
Alan Willis began building fences at Badminton (where Thomas is now director and course designer) back in 1966 and he is now a well-respected master of his craft. Etherington-Smith will gladly rely on his support and expertise as he faces his greatest challenge to date.