The Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympic Games today will kick off nearly two weeks of sport, with Britain’s equestrian athletes hot favourites to follow their Olympic counterparts on to the podium at Greenwich.
Excitement and great expectations are building up in the Olympic venues dotted around the city whilst record ticket sales – over 2.2 million tickets sold – are already hailing this edition as the greatest ever.
This will be the fifth time Para-Equestrian Dressage is on the programme but it is the first time it is held in a country with such a strong Para-Equestrian culture, so strong that since it became a Paralympic sport in 1996, Great Britain has held the team title on every occasion as well as leading the individual medal count by a whopping margin.
Seventy-eight riders and 77 horses (two riders will be using the same horse) from 27 countries will be competing over the six days of competition from Thursday, August 30 to Wednesday, September 4. The athletes are divided into five Grades (Ia, Ib, II, III, IV, V) and will be looking to impress the judges in the Team Test, Individual Championship Test and Freestyle, with 11 sets of medals up for grabs, two per Grade and the overall team medals.
The first medals will be awarded on Saturday, with the Grade II and Ib individual tests.
There will be many familiar faces and medallists from previous Games at Greenwich Park looking to secure the ultimate prize, and none more so than Britain’s Lee Pearson, the world’s most successful Para-Equestrian to date, having won three gold medals (individual Championship, Freestyle and Team) at three Paralympic Games – 2000, 2004 and 2008 – taking his gold medal tally to an impressive nine.
“It’s a team effort getting here let alone getting a gold medal. It’s thanks to all those people behind the scenes, helping us on a day to day basis, the trainers, the coaches, the grooms, the sponsors, the physios, our families – basically a large team of dedicated people that enable us to compete at this level, and sometimes bring home medals”
Pearson will be the most experienced British team member this year, competing at his fourth Paralympic Games, but he is not the most Games experienced out there, with France’s Nathalie Bizet, Norway’s Jens Lasse Dokkan and Germany’s Angelika Trabert all competing for the fifth time – which means they have attended every edition of the Paralympic Games since Equestrian sport joined the programme in 1996.
Competitors from 27 nations will be taking part in this edition with the ages of the athletes spanning over five decades, from 15 year old Natasha Tse Pui Ting from Hong Kong to Canada’s Eleonore Elstone, aged 60.
The venue is ready and the horse inspection will be the start of proceedings for what is set to be an incredible Paralympic experience for all the athletes, support teams, volunteers and fans.
Facts & Figures
Great Britain leads the medal count with a whopping 33 medals since 1996 (18 gold, 8 silver and 7 bronze) followed by Germany on 14 medals (4 gold, 7 silver and 3 bronze) and Norway in third place with 14 medals (4 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze).
Lee Pearson has attended three editions of the Paralympic Games (2000, 2004 and 2008) and on each occasion secured all three gold medals available to him (Individual, Freestyle and Team) and clearly leads the individual medal count.
Only six teams have ever won a medal at the equestrian events of the Paralympic Games since 1996: Denmark (silver in 1996), France (bronze in 1996), Germany (silver in 2004 & 2008), Great Britain (gold every time), The Netherlands (silver in 2000 & bronze in 2004), Norway (bronze in 2000 & 2008).
Laurentia Tan from Singapore became in 2008 the first Asian rider to win a medal at the equestrian events of the Paralympic Games and will be competing again in 2012 with the first Singaporean team.
Marco Alves also won historic medals in 2008, providing Brazil and South America with their first Paralympic Equestrian medals.
Lee Frawley is the first rider to ever represent the Virgin Islands in the equestrian events of the Paralmypic Games.