Team GBR’s para riders head to Greenwich amid great excitement and expectation, but believe they can build on their exemplary record at this level.
British riders topped the medal table in Beijing, winning five gold medals. They have won team gold at every Paralympic Games since equestrianism was introduced at Atlanta in 1996.
“Going into these home Games, with our successful record and the outstanding success of the Olympics, the expectations are very high,” said team leader David Hunter.
“But the pressure is not getting to the riders or myself. We are very focused and hope to do well – but there is certainly no room for complacency.”
New FEI rules allow for a maximum of five riders rather than the seven allowed at previous Games. Team GBR selectors decided to take one rider for each of the five grades – in order to maximise the chances of gold medals (see our preview, p32).
Between them, Lee Pearson, Deb Criddle, Sophie Christiansen, Sophie Wells and Natasha Baker will challenge for a total of 11 medals; five for each grade, another five for the freestyle, plus the team competition.
Sophie Christiansen, who won individual bronze in Athens and gold in Beijing, joked that the para riders were “not used to having to emulate” the able-bodied dressage team.
“It’s awesome what they did in the Olympics, it has really put our sport on the map.
“It does add a bit of pressure, but I know I have got a phenomenally talented horse [Janeiro 6] and, if we get it right and perform to the best of our ability, we are capable of winning gold,” she said.
Team GBR veterans Lee Pearson and Deb Criddle are joined by two first-time Paralympians, Natasha Baker and Sophie Wells.
“It is a really exciting time to be part of British dressage,” said Sophie Wells.
“The public is really hyped up about it, but in a good way. I hope we can just do our job, do the best we can and, obviously, defend our team gold,” she added.
These Paralympics have enjoyed record ticket sales. More tickets for the equestrian events (30 August-4 September) went on sale last Friday (17 August) and others will be made available on a day-by-day basis.
This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (23 August 2012)
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