Britain’s record of winning every Paralympic, World and European gold medal since the sport became part of the Games in 1996 remained in tact today. In addition, all the British riders competing today won an individual medal: Sophie Christiansen took individual gold in Ia, Sophie Wells silver in Grade IV and Deb Criddle silver in Grade III.
Lee Pearson’s team gold will be his 10th Paralympic gold, but he will have to wait until Tuesday’s medal ceremony to receive it. He will have the opportunity to equal the British record of 11, held by wheelchair racer Baroness Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts, when he competes in the freestyle tomorrow.
Lee said: “I think this has been our strongest team, but it has been the toughest gold to gain.”
David Hunter, team manager at his third Paralympic Games, said: “Our priority was to win team gold and as many individual medals as possible. It’s fantastic.”
Team trainer Michel Assouline added: “This is history for us. Very rarely does a country have a rider in each grade and this is the first time a country as ever won a medal in each grade. When you think that the drop scores were above 70%, that is also amazing.”
Grade Ia Individual Championship Test
Even before Sophie Christiansen and Janeiro 6 entered the arena for their Grade 1a Individual Championship Test, it was highly unlikely that Britain would be beaten and Sophie’s score of 82.75% just confirmed Britain’s reputation as the powerhouse of para-equestrian dressage.
Norwegian judge Kjell Myhre explained why Sophie and ‘Rio’ gain the exceptional marks they do: “The quality of the walk is exceptional. It’s the activity and consistency of the contact.”
Sophie’s long-time trainer Clive Milkins said; “This gold is in memory of Jane Goldsmith, who pioneered para-dressage in Britain. She found Rio for us from the Eilberg family and without her influence, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
A beaming Sophie added; “It’s a hard task waiting for two hours, but I couldn’t be happier. All I could do was my best – by going first I just had to focus on my own performance and set the bar really high. I couldn’t have asked for anymore.”
Riding at her first Paralympics, Ireland’s Helen Kearney rode the 13-year-old Irish Sport horse Mister Cool into silver medal position and will be receiving a bronze team medal on Tuesday too.
Helen, who is trained by Heike Holstein, said: “This is unreal. I know I had been working really hard. We were sixth after the team test and didn’t think we had a hope in hell; to get bronze is out of this world. We have come such a long way as a nation since 2009 when we struggled to finish in the top 10.”
British-based Singaporean Laurentia Tan and Ruben James 2 won bronze.
Grade IV Individual Championship Test
After Lee Pearson’s shock defeat yesterday, it was favourite Sophie Wells’ turn today to be denied the individual Grade IV gold, despite scoring another international personal best of 76.323% with Pinocchio.
“I followed Michele [George, the winner] and heard her score outside the arena. I knew that it would be possible to win as long as I didn’t have any mistakes, but the mistake was there. You can’t change that,” said Sophie, referring to a simple change, which wasn’t clean.
“‘Noki’ was a little apprehensive of the crowd when he went in today. I just tried to nail every movement, but had that one small mistake. His power and size perhaps are against me with my disability, but he’s phenomenal and has the potential to win gold in the future. I knew I had blown it. I am disappointed, but know I did my best. That’s horses for you.”
Looking forward to her next chance to win a gold medal on Tuesday in the freestyle, Sophie Wells said: “I want my gold medal back!”
Belgium won its first gold Paralympic medal today when 38-year-old professional rider and trainer Michele George, competing at her first Paralympics, rode Rainman to score a personal best of 77.065%.
Michele had an accident while lungeing a horse in 2008, which left her wheelchair-bound for two years after the operation to fix her knee went wrong.
She has had the 10-year-old German-bred gelding by Rubicell, known as “Fuchs”, since a three-year-old and he was turned out for two years while she was incapacitated.
An ecstatic Michele, who trains with Jean Bemelmans and competed at small tour level before her accident, said: “I came second to Sophie at the Worlds in Kentucky in 2010, so I knew I had to put on a bit of pressure and it was now or never. Sometimes you have to take some risks. He was genius. It was like a puzzle and all the pieces fitted together.”
Also at his first Paralympics, Holland’s Frank Hosmar and Alphaville won bronze with 73.097%. Trainer Adelinde Cornelissen made the journey from Holland this morning to support him and watched him receive his medal.
A professional rider and trainer, Frank has been a para-equestrian competitor since 2009 after he fell on glass and cut all muscles, nerves and tendons in his hand in 1997.
Grade III Individual Championship Test
Having the experience of competing at three previous Paralympics meant that Deb Criddle was able to refocus despite making a mistake while riding LJT Akilles in the Grade III Individual Championship Test and still achieve 71% to win silver.
The 46-year-old rider said: “The marks are a little bit lower than I’d hoped. Yes, there was a mistake. I had too much bend and couldn’t contain what I’d created, so we had an abrupt stop. He’s a sensitive chappie and there was more atmosphere today, but he grew into it in a good way. We had lots of super movements and, overall, it felt fantastic.
“When you go first, it’s always difficult. You have to go out and push for everything. You have no option and know you have better riders coming behind you. There’s always another day, but not, unfortunately, another London 2012. I’ve only had him for just over a year and performing in front of 10,000 people is a lot to ask of a horse. I thought he coped brilliantly well,” she said.
Germany’s Hannelore Brenner and Women Of The World retained their Paralympic title, winning gold with 75.741%. Hanne, who sustained a spinal injury while eventing in 1986, was riding a 17-year-old Hannovarian mare by Walt Disney, whom she has partnered for seven years. She has now won a total of 28 individual championship medals, 16 with her current partner.
“Since I watched the London Olympics on TV a few weeks ago, I have been permanently excited about coming. Britain is a horse nation, so I knew it would be fantastic here. My mare was genius, even better than two days ago, and was completely with me,” she said.
Bronze went to Denmark’s Annika Dalskov and the six-year-old De Niro gelding Aros A Fenris.
1, Great Britain 468.817
2, Germany 440.970
3, Ireland 428.313
Results Grade 1a:
1, Sophie Christiansen (Janeiro 6) GBR 82.75%
2, Helen Kearney (Mister Cool) IRL 76.7%
3, Laurentia Tan (Ruben James 2) SIN 73.65%
Results Grade III:
1, Hannelore Brenner (Women Of The World) GER 75.741%
2, Deb Criddle (LJT Akilles) GBR 72.926%
3, Annika Dalskov (Aros A Fenris) 72.889%
Results Grade IV:
1, Michele George (Rainman) BEL 77.065%
2, Sophie Wells (Pinocchio) GBR 76.323%
3, Frank Hosmar (Alphaville) NED 73.097%
Start times for tomorrow:
Freestyle Test Grade II, Natasha Baker (Cabral)
Freestyle Test Grade Ib, Lee Pearson (Gentleman)
For more details, visit www.london2012.com