British Paralympic squad changes: new face to make Games debut as multi-medallist ruled out

  • Eight-time Paralympic gold medallist Sophie Christiansen is out of the British Paralympic squad for the Tokyo Games following the withdrawal of her ride Innuendo III from selection owing to a “minor veterinary issue”.

    Sophie has competed at every Paralympics since her debut at Athens 2004. Tokyo would have been her fifth Games and a first senior championship appearance for the 14-year-old Last Minute gelding.

    This is a blow to both Sophie, who would have been looking to add more medals to her glittering collection, and to the British squad to lose a rider with such a strong history of championship experience and achievements. But it is testament to the strength of British para dressage that the European gold medal winner Georgia Wilson has been called up to fill Sophie’s place, aboard the seven-year-old mare Sakura.

    “I’m absolutely heartbroken to announce that Louie and I will not be going to Tokyo,” said Sophie.

    “There’s always that risk with equestrian sport and unfortunately it was decided Louie wouldn’t have been able to give his best due to a minor veterinary issue.

    “I’m thrilled that Georgia will be taking my place. For those of you who will miss seeing my smile, Georgia will similarly light up the arena in Tokyo! Becoming a Paralympian changed my life, in a way that I hope Tokyo will do for her.”

    Sophie added she is “truly gutted” for her team, who “worked tirelessly” to aid her selection, and everyone who helped with her fundraising.

    “Anna Miller and Georgie Poulter made such sacrifices. It says a lot about the team that I have created that I am instantly looking on to Paris 2024, whereas in 2016 I was so miserable even with my success that I was contemplating retiring.

    “I’m so glad that the conversation around athlete mental health has opened up as it is so important that we feel we can talk about it and speak up, rather than push it down, out of sight, so it isn’t seen as a black mark for team selection.

    “I hope that the spotlight on the Paralympics will help showcase the standard of horses and coaching we now need in Great Britain, especially for the lower grades.

    “Finding the right horse this cycle has been incredibly tough, and in order to get back on top and also help the next generation, we need owners, horse scouts and better coach training. I hope that the equestrian community will feel informed enough that they can support para dressage riders more, just as they do for the able-bodied teams.

    “If you have my Paris horse sitting in your field, or would like to join the journey as an owner, or would like to help the other talented young para riders I mentor, hit me up! Sadly our ParalympicsGB kit must now be returned… Here’s to Paris 2024!”

    British Equestrian performance director, Dickie Waygood, added the news will be a “personal disappointment to Sophie, who has worked so hard for a chance to represent her country at her fifth consecutive Games”.

    “However, with the experience of Natasha, Lee and Sophie Wells now joined by Georgia, who, having tasted medal success in 2019, is ready for more, the British quartet will pose a strong challenge on the Paralympic stage,” he said.

    Grade II rider Georgia, 25, won freestyle gold, individual silver and also helped the British team to silver at the 2019 European Championships with Midnight. Tokyo will be Georgia’s first Paralympic appearance and a first senior championships for Sakura, who she owns with Geoff and Julie Wilson.

    The pair have two international shows as a combination under their belt and have never scored below 70% in national or international competition. Their recent results include 76.05% in the freestyle at Hartpury CPEDI in July, and 72.30% and 71.21% in the team tests at Hartpury and Kronenberg respectively.

    All four riders on the British squad will compete in Japan and the team of three that will take part in the team competition will be announced after the individual contest.

    Penny Briscoe, ParalympicsGB chef de mission at Tokyo 2020 said: “This is clearly desperately disappointing news for Sophie who is an incredible athlete, ambassador and advocate for the Paralympic movement.

    “She has set the standard at recent Games and we were looking forward to seeing her compete in Tokyo.

    “An injury to either rider or horse so close to the Games is very unfortunate and we will work with the British Equestrian to ensure Sophie has the support she needs.

    “Georgia’s selection clearly demonstrates the strength in depth in British para dressage and we are excited to see her make her Paralympics debut in Tokyo.”

    The para dressage horses are currently in quarantine and will fly to Tokyo on 18 August.

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