Paralympics Day 5: Equestrian Freestyle Grade Ib & II

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Today was a repeat of two days ago; another day of mixed emotions. Natasha Baker confirmed her superstar status with gold while Lee Pearson added a bronze, which meant he was unable to equal the Paralympic record of 11 gold medals set by wheelchair athlete Tanni Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts.

Grade II Freestyle

Britain’s Natasha Baker exceeded all expectations to win her second gold medal by a massive margin with Cabral and set her second Paralympic record score, this time 82.8% in the Grade II freestyle, at her first Paralympic Games.

Having won her first gold medal two days ago, Royal Mail has already confirmed that Uxbridge High Street will be sporting her gold postbox and Natasha’s stamp has also been released today.

The bubbly 22-year-old gave credit to all the support she had from the home crowd and said: “It felt like the best test I’ve probably ever done and what a place to do it. It is a personal best and Paralympic record, two in two days; that is pretty special isn’t it?

“I was so far behind my music I had to completely improvise. I think I might improvise a bit more often! I had to cut a corner, but I think it looked quite good artistically. I was going to change my music after this, but I may not now!”

“The music really shows JP off to his max. It is literally foot perfect. Ken Barnsely, who died last year, put it together for me. He’s played a massive part in me getting that score,” said Natasha, who admitted to being extremely superstitious.

“The Opening Ceremony was the night before I was competing and we were a bit cheeky and had a McDonalds, so every day since I have a McDonalds the day before I’ve competed and it’s worked.”

The silver and bronze medals went to the same two Germans as in the Individual Championship Test. Britta Napel, who runs her own yard for disabled riders, produced a test full of energy, but had a couple of errors with the 14-year-old mare Aquilina.

Bronze went to Britta’s teammate Angelika Trabert on another mare, the nine-year-old Ariva-Avanti, again only a fraction behind on 76%.

Angelika, who is competing at her fifth Paralympics, said: “We are happy everything went so well; we all worked together as a team and that is worth gold. We are going to celebrate tonight.”

Grade Ib Freestyle

The outcome of this class wasn’t decided until the last rider and it was a complete surprise all round. Two days ago, Lee Pearson had to settle for individual silver, having been unbeaten at the past three Paralympics. Today, he was relegated to bronze medal position riding to a James Bond musical medley. With the team gold he will receive tomorrow, it means his tally of gold Paralympic medals remains at ten.

Lee said: “Gentleman has struggled this week physically. It is quite unusual for him to compete every other day over six days, so the guys backstage have been working hard on keeping him sane and sound. I don’t think he could have offered any more in the arena and, to be honest, I don’t think I could have ridden any better. Literally, bronze was the maximum I could have got. I’ve got OCD, so one of each colour will be really nice above the fireplace.”

Lee’s placings varied greatly. Three judges had him in second, one in fifth and the British judge had Lee 11th. Lee was asked to comment about a discrepancy in the marks during the press conference: “She saw whatever she saw.”

Gold went to the hugely popular former event rider, Austria’s Pepo Puch and Fine Feeling by a nearly 5% margin. Pepo, who is trained by his wife, also a professional rider, describes his 15-year-old Hannoverian mare by Fabriano as a “prima ballerina”.

He said: “My mare offered me so much. She likes the music; she starts to dance and to swing and she says ‘come to my party’.”

The silver medal went to the last rider to go, Finland’s Katja Karjalainen and Rosie, who snuck ahead of Lee by just .05%. Katja, who is visually impaired, has partnered the 14-year-old mare by Monaco for the past three years.

She said: “We won bronze with this freestyle music at the Worlds, so I knew I had a chance of bronze, but I never dreamt of winning silver, not in my wildest dreams.”

Team Test – Grade II
1, Natasha Baker (Cabral) GBR 82.8%
2, Britta T Napel (Aquilina 3) GER 77.4%
3, Angelika Trabert (Ariva-Avanti) 76.15%

Results Team Test – Grade Ib
1, Pepo Puch (Fine Feeling) AUT 79.15%
2, Katja Karjalainen (Rosie) FIN 74.25
3, Lee Pearson (Gentleman) GBR 74.2%

Start times for tomorrow:
Grade IV, Sophie Wells (Pinocchio) 10.47am
Grade III, Deb Criddle (LJT Akilles) 3.14pm
Grade Ia, Sophie Christiansen (Janeiro 6) 5.31pm

For more details, visit www.london2012.com

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