Britain surpassed its total medal tally record of 10 set at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics today. Competing in the freestyle, Sophie Christiansen became Britain’s first athlete to secure three gold medals at these Games, while Deb Criddle and Sophie Wells earned another silver each.
Performance Director Will Connell said: “At Beijing, we won 10 medals with seven riders. Here we’ve won 11 medals with five riders and exceeded our target. This is the first time anyone has won medals in all five grades in the individual and freestyle.”
Grade Ia Freestyle
The golden girl of the Games Sophie Christiansen retained her freestyle Paralympic title and made it a full house today, winning the maximum three gold medals when she scored 84.75% with Janeiro 6. It was another personal best and Paralympic record.
She said: “I was always going to enjoy that. Sometimes I can get a bit carried away, but today I relaxed and gave it everything I could. Knowing my friends and family were in the audience was really special. Some of them had never seen me on a horse, let alone winning a medal.”
The expectations were high after two record-breaking team and individual test scores and Sophie had something a bit special lined up: “I know the composer Owen Gurry really well and he knows my test. It’s a bit ground-breaking as I’ve got a bit of Shakespeare as well as the Big Ben bells.”
Singapore’s Laurentia Tan and Ruben James 2 won silver ahead of Ireland’s Helen Kearney and Mister Cool in bronze.
Helen said: “It’s absolutely phenomenal. I didn’t have any idea that I would end up with two medals and a team medal. I didn’t see it coming and I’m so grateful.”
Grade III Freestyle
Deb Criddle’s freestyle to the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations with LJT Akilles earned her 78.55% and her second silver medal of the Games.
Deb, who is trained by Nina Venables, said: “My freestyle was truly freestyle today. I had a slight momentary hesitation, which meant that I went into a movement I shouldn’t have done at the time. I ad-libbed and picked it up from there. That’s where I did good today, because I did not let it throw me. He was really with me. My medium trot had a little loss of rhythm, which would have been a little bit costly, but other than that I am over the moon with how he was. We did the best shoulder-ins I’ve ever done in a test.”
“I feel so honoured to have the ride on him because 18 months ago I didn’t have a horse for these Games. Eighteen months of hard work has really paid off. He was bought specifically for me by The Lady Joseph Trust, whose aim is to provide top horses for top para riders and I think for them to have fulfilled what they set out to do with their first competing horse is just brilliant.”
Commenting on her fourth Games, Deb said: “It’s just been fabulous, the best Games I have ever done. I think Sophie said it earlier, we do feel so honoured to be here, that the crowd is supporting us just so much. Words can’t describe the feeling they have created for us; we will never forget these Games.”
Germany’s Hannelore Brenner retained her Paralympic freestyle title, winning gold with 81.7%, another personal best and Paralympic record. Hanne, who sustained a spinal injury while eventing in 1986, was riding the 17-year-old Hannovarian mare by Walt Disney, Women Of The World, whom she has partnered for seven years. She has now won a total of 30 championship medals.
Hanne, who rode to music from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s American Classic, said: “She loves the music too; we just had fun. The pressure was two days ago. Today it was really fun to ride in this great arena.”
Bronze went to Denmark’s Annika Dalskov and the six-year-old De Niro gelding Aros A Fenris.
Grade IV Freestyle
Despite Sophie Wells producing another personal best of 81.15% in the freestyle, it was not enough for gold and she had to settle for her second silver of the Games.
The medal positions remained the exact same as in the individual test with the 38-year-old Belgian professional rider and trainer Michele George and Rainman also producing a personal best of 82.1% and setting a Paralympic record.
Michele had to work hard to contain the 10-year-old gelding by Rubicell, a gift from her husband as a three-year-old, as the atmosphere got to him.
“He was a little bit hot and tense today. I could feel his heart beating, so it was not as easy as it was two days ago. The freestyle is not our favourite,” said Michele before declaring Greenwich Park “the best venue ever”.
An exhausted and slightly disappointed Sophie said: “I had to take some risks to have the chance of beating Michele today. She’s been on good form at this competition. Some of the risks paid off, some maybe didn’t. I had a small mistake in the tempi changes down the centre line that affected the last halt.
“I don’t think I could have done any more preparation wise. I’m absolutely thrilled with my horse. He coped like a star in this atmosphere. It’s been an absolute dream to compete in this competition and represent the country. I don’t know how I will be able to top this.”
Bronze went to Adelinde Cornelissen’s pupil, Holland’s Frank Hosmar and the seven-year-old Dutch-bred gelding Alphaville, by Sandreo.
He said: “It was only Alphaville’s third competition this season and his first time competing in the freestyle, so he did well.”
Team manager David Hunter said: “The atmosphere here has been a huge bonus. There has been great feeling. The spectators have been so caring, some knowledgeable, some not, but so enthused. It is the biggest audience (11,000) any para-equestrian competitor of any nation has ever ridden in front of.”
It is the first time many have experienced a feature unique to the sport dubbed “butterfly waving”. This is when the audience are asked not to clap until horse and handler are reunited after the test, particularly in Grade Ia, and show their appreciation by waving, either hands or flags.
The silence is incredibly powerful and moving as David explains: “It is so special and poignant.”
Results Grade 1a:
1, Sophie Christiansen (Janeiro 6) GBR 84.75%
2, Laurentia Tan (Ruben James 2) SIN 79%
3, Helen Kearney (Mister Cool) IRL 78.450%
Results Grade III:
1, Hannelore Brenner (Women Of The World) GER 81.7%
2, Deb Criddle (LJT Akilles) GBR 78.55%
3, Annika Dalskov (Aros A Fenris) 76.95%
Results Grade IV:
1, Michele George (Rainman) BEL 82.1%
2, Sophie Wells (Pinocchio) GBR 81.15%
3, Frank Hosmar (Alphaville) NED 78.6%
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