The BPA today announced the five Equestrian athletes who will seek to maintain the impressive track record of British riders at the Paralympic Games.
The 2012 squad will feature a combination of youth and experience, with nine-time Paralympian Lee Pearson (Grade Ib) set to make his fourth ParalympicsGB appearance alongside Deborah Criddle (Grade III), whilst for Sophie Christiansen (Grade Ia), London will be her third Games, having joined both Lee and Deborah in the squad for Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. Between them the selected athletes have represented Great Britain at ten Paralympic Games, winning a total of fourteen medals.
They are joined by Sophie Wells (Grade IV) and Natasha Baker (Grade II) – both of whom achieve Paralympic selection for the first time.
Britain’s riders topped the medal table in Beijing, winning five gold medals including team gold for the fourth consecutive Games. The four team riders will be hoping to capitalise on their previous successes at Paralympic Games and record their fifth team title, having won team gold at every Paralympic Games since the sport was introduced at Atlanta in 1996.
Paralympic Equestrian Team Leader, David Hunter commented: “Great Britain will be sending what I believe to be one of the strongest and best prepared squads to the Paralympic Games.
“The five riders and their support teams have worked extremely hard all the way through the selection process and my heartfelt congratulations goes to them; as well as my condolences to those who did not make the squad.
“It’s been a tough few months for all riders, particularly as the new FEI rules allow for a maximum of five competitors to compete in London – previous Games had allowed seven riders. The selection process has been robust and results driven and I’m very grateful to the selectors and all of the World Class support staff for the time and effort put in to getting the team to this stage. Roll on the Games”.
Christiansen won an individual bronze in Athens in 2004 and two golds (team and freestyle) in Beijing in 2008. She said of her selection for London: “I’m so excited; it’s just phenomenal to be going. London definitely feels more special, even fewer athletes ever get to experience a home Games and there will be so many of my friends and family there to cheer us on.
“Greenwich is going to be breathtaking. At Athens, the venue was quite far out and in 2008 we were in Hong Kong, so to have such an iconic equestrian venue right in the heart of London will be amazing. I have had so many people behind me and supporting me this year and I think everyone in my team has contributed to our success; it’s all been down to great teamwork”.
Pearson said today: “It’s a huge relief to get the nod and a great honour to be going to my fourth Paralympic Games, the feeling still hasn’t worn off.
“It feels surreal at the minute but I’m really looking forward to it; we have a very strong squad and with the home crowd behind you the support there will be great but there will be that extra added pressure. I don’t think I’ll ever be going to a Games in this country again and I really can’t wait to get there”.
Natasha Baker, who became European individual and freestyle grade II Champion on her senior team debut last year, commented: “It’s a complete dream come true, I’ve always dreamt about it since Sydney in 2000, and after twelve years of hard work it’s finally paid off, it really is the most incredible feeling ever. I’m not on cloud nine – more like 109!
“It will be amazing to have all my friends and family there in London; it will be very special to have the feeling that you have the whole country behind you.”
Since Beijing the team has continued their medal-winning form: in 2010 the British Equestrian squad won thirteen medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, including team and six individual golds, three individual silvers and three individual bronze medals. Three of the selected athletes – Criddle, Baker and Wells – competed in the all-female Equestrian team at the 2011 European Championships which brought home eight gold medals and a silver.
Criddle, who will be competing at her fourth Paralympic Games was celebrating selection today, saying, “I’m just over the moon; it means so much more this time around, being in London with a home crowd behind us. For me it’s about being able to show thanks to friends and family and all those who got you there. I feel very honoured to be selected and am so pleased at the vote of confidence from all involved in the selection process for the progress that The Lady Joseph Trusts’ Akilles and I have been making in our training”.
Although making her Games debut, Sophie Wells is no stranger to the international stage, having won individual golds for Great Britain at the World Equestrian Games (2010) and the 2011 European Championships. Wells said today: “It is just a dream come true; we’ve been working towards it for so long to be told it’s happening and we’re that step closer is amazing, although it’s not quite sunk in yet.
“I’m chuffed to bits for my owners Jackie and Neil, they have been so supportive over the past three and a half years and it’s a real achievement for them, I’m so pleased I can do this for them. Noki is going really well at the moment and I’m really excited to be going with him to London. I’m very lucky to have been selected with Reece in direct reserve, and I would be as confident in the arena with either of them.
“It’s a massive testament to Angela [Weiss, trainer] that I’m in this position of having a second horse to call upon; she has been unbelievably supportive in everyway possible and it’s going to be very special heading to London with her”.
“This team is truly world-class”, said Craig Hunter, Chef de Mission of ParalympicsGB. “These athletes have excellent track records both as individuals and in the team event. I can’t wait to see how these athletes perform in London and I hope the British public will show their support for our riders by cheering them on in just over 50 days time.”
Equestrian Performance Director, Will Connell commented: “This completes the selection process for London 2012, with the action kicking off in 18 days. We head to London with talented squads that are well prepared; preparation that has been greatly aided by the Lottery and Exchequer funding we receive through UK Sport.
“The squad heading the Paralympic Games is strong, talented and has proven form; but anyone thinking it will be an easy ride to winning medals is greatly mistaken – I believe we will see very close competition during the Paralympics and there are many athletes from a number of Nations that will be fighting hard to get ownership of the medals”.
The athletes selected are:
Grade Ia – Sophie Christiansen: Maidenhead, Berkshire (Born: Ascot)riding her own Janeiro 6
Grade Ib – Lee Pearson: Staffordshire (Born: Stoke on Trent) riding Mr & Mrs D Pearson, Gillian Chinn and his own Gentleman
Grade II – Natasha Baker: Uxbridge, Middlesex (Born: Hammersmith, London) riding Mr C Landolt, Mr & Mrs P Baker and Mrs D Alder’s Cabral
Grade III – Deborah Criddle: Taunton, Somerset riding The Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Akilles
Grade IV – Sophie Wells: Newark, Nottinghamshire (Born: Lincoln) riding Dr Jackie Walker’s Pinocchio
Anne Dunham has been named as first reserve with Mrs Sally Anne Brown’s Teddy. Lee Pearson and Sophie Wells are both selected with direct reserve horses – Lee on Zion and Sophie with Valerius. The team, consisting of four riders from those named above, will be announced at a later date.