Members of the amazingly successful British squad at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games head the short-listed riders for Athens, with individual gold medal winners and world number one Lee Pearson (Grade Ib), Nicola Tustain (Grade II) and Kay Gebbie (Grade IV), among the names.
Other riders included on the short-list are: World number three Anne Dunham and Sophie Christianson (Grade Ia); Ricky Balshaw, Liz Stone and Jo Pitt (Grade II); Debbie Criddle (Grade III); and Michelle Crunkhorn (Grade IV).
Britain has dominated the world of paralympic dressage since it first became a paralympic sport at the Atlanta Games in 1996. The British squad won team gold in Sydney in 2000, as well as bringing home a host of individual medals, and proved unbeatable at last year’s World Championships in Belgium, where they qualified comfortably for Athens.
Hopes are high for the British squad, which will comprise a team of four riders, plus up to three additional riders, who will compete as individuals. The final squad will be selected after Moorselle International, Belgium in May.
Jane Goldsmith, director of training for the Paralympic squad, says: “We are optimistic that the riders will deliver the goods once again in Athens. They are all currently in good form and are aiming to improve their World Championship percentages by around two per cent.
“The Germans will be our greatest threat, although Norway, Holland and America also have some good riders. It will be interesting to see what happens in Belgium, especially as the Germans have a new team trainer.”
The paralympic dressage competition (22-27 September) will be held at the Markopoulo Olympic Equestrian Centre, which is also hosting the Olympic equestrian events.
“I have been to see the facilities in Athens and the site looks great,” says Jane. “The British team has the tools to do the job, so we should stand a very good chance of bringing home gold medals.”
All team riders will contest an individual test, followed by a freestyle to music test, before the final team test. There will also be the opportunity to ride a warm-up test on the first day of competition, but this is not compulsory. Individual competitors will each ride an individual and a freestyle to music test.
All of the tests used have been designed with the rider’s grade of disability in mind, therefore Grade I riders will ride less difficult tests than their Grade IV team mates, with the three best scores counting for the team medals.
For more details about the paralympics visit the official website: www.athens2004.com