Day three turned into a day of high and mixed emotions for the home nation. The British camp was euphoric at lunchtime after Natasha Baker and Cabral won individual gold in Grade II, but it turned to shock when Lee Pearson’s score of 75.391% turned out not to be enough to win him his tenth gold.
Unbeaten at the last three Paralympics, Lee Pearson’s total domination of the Grade Ib competition and chance to make it 12 gold medals in 2012 finally came to an end today when a relatively unknown Australian won her first Paralympic equestrian gold medal.
It was an incredibly close fought battle with less than 0.8% separating the medallists. Joann Formosa partnered Worldwide PB to victory on a score of 75.826%. The 16-year-old stallion has been competed up to Intermediate I by a British rider who lives in Australia, Claire Wickens-Seidel.
Joann, who bought Worldwide just seven months ago, was competing not only at her first Games, but also it was only her second international competition, her first international with this horse.
She said: “I met Lee at the 2006 World Games in Hartpury and said to him then I would be back.”
Suffering with the “worst nerves ever of my entire life” did not stop Lee Pearson producing a stonking test for 75.391% – just 0.435 adrift.
After a shaky start in the team test on Thursday when Lee described his ride as though Gentlemen’s “engine dropped out of his backside”, this time Lee was a lot happier: “He was much more on side and we had the engine running. He stayed in perfect balance. I rode the best test I could have done.
“Joann made no mistakes, rode every single step and had no tension. Gent broke slightly into a jog in the walk and that may have lost me the medal.”
Now known as “Mr Come Dine With Me”, he is keeping his music for the freestyle on Monday a closely guarded secret: “I enjoy the freestyle as we can show off a little bit.”
Bronze went to the popular former eventer, Austria’s Pepo Puch and Fine Feeling.
On her Paralympic debut, Grade II rider Natasha Baker and Christian Llandolt’s former event horse Cabral set a new Paralympic record in the Individual Championship Grade II Test of 76.857% to win Britain’s first equestrian gold of the Games.
“London girl” Natasha, who had a nail-biting wait as she was fifth into the arena of 25, said: “We stepped it up a gear today. We had the best warm-up ever; he was the softest he’s ever been and has never felt so settled. There are still things we can improve on; I know there’s more in the tank. He really listens to me when we are under pressure; he is a super, genuine horse.
“I have dreamt of this for 12 years, having watched the Sydney Paralympics on telly when I was 10. My ambition was a) to compete at a Paralympics and b) to win a medal. I never expected to win gold at my first Games; I will get a postbox now!”
Natasha will have another chance to win gold on Monday, when she competes in the freestyle test: “I have a great floor plan and have gone for simple. They say less is more.”
Only a fraction behind, Germany’s Britta Napel took second place riding the 14-year-old mare Aquilina. Britta, who runs her own yard for disabled riders, scored a personal best with 76.857.
Bronze went to Britta’s teammate Angelica Trabert on another mare, the 11-year-old Ariva-Avanti, again only a fraction behind on 76%.
She said: “This is our fifth Paralympics and our first Paralympic individual medal since Atlanta in 1996. This is what we’ve been working towards; it is nice when the master plan comes together.”
Results Team Test – Grade Ib
1, Joann Formosa (Worldwide PB) AUS 75.826%
2, Lee Pearson (Gentleman) GBR 75.391%
3, Pepo Puch (Fine Feeling) AUT 75.043%
Team Test – Grade II
1, Natasha Baker (Cabral) GBR 76.857%
2, Britta T Napel (Aquilina 3) GER 76.048%
3, Angelika Trabert (Ariva-Avanti) 76%
Start times for tomorrow:
Grade IV, Sophie Wells (Pinocchio) 10.29am
Grade III, Deb Criddle (LJT Akilles) 1.45pm
Grade Ia, Sophie Christiansen (Janeiro 6) 4.15pm
For more details, visit www.london2012.com