All five Grades of riders at the London 2012 Paralympic Games have now completed their team test, with grades IV, III and Ia taking centre stage on Friday.
The way the team score works is that the best three scores in the team test from each nation are added to the best three scores in the Individual Championships test to decide the winner. The Individual Championship tests will be taking place over the weekend and count for both the team score and for individual medal honours.
Great Britain took a vice-like grip on the London 2012 Paralympic Games Team Dressage title after three more outstanding performances. The British quartet of Lee Pearson, Sophie Wells, Deb Criddle and Sophie Christiansen are chasing a fifth successive Team gold medal.
After Pearson topped the Grade Ib class on Thursday, Wells (IV) and Christiansen (Ia) followed suit on Friday with brilliant displays, and Criddle was second behind defending Individual champion Hannelore Brenner in Grade III.
It was a beautiful but cold day in Greenwich Park with big blue skies to greet the spectators for a 9am start and another winning British performance, this time by Sophie Wells, a Paralmypic debutant, but nonetheless current World and European champion. Riding Pinocchio, the 22-year-old posted an international personal best score of 75.906%, giving Great Britain a second top mark towards their overall team score.
Belgium’s Michele George came in second place on 10-year-old Dutch-bred Rainman amongst the 14 riders competing in Grade IV. George is trained by Ulla Salzgeber and Jean Bemelmans and has ridden since she was 12. She and won freestyle silver in Kentucky in 2010.
Other starters in the graded included former Paralympic Champion Philippa Johnson from South Africa and two of her team mates – Ciska Vermeulen and Ulricke Dekeyzer. Frank Hosmar, Individual silver and bronze medallist from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky also delivered the goods, with a score of 71.781 on Alphaville towards the Dutch team score. Hosmar, a professional trainer and Paralympic debutant, is trained by Adelinde Cornelissen.
It was a particularly special and long-awaited moment for 22-year-old Sophie Wells, as she was first reserve for the 2008 Hong Kong Games, was called up, but then had to stand down after Touchdown went lame while in quarantine.
This time she was riding Dr Jackie and Dr Neil Walker’s 15-year-old 17.2hh gelding Pinocchio by Landeur, who is working at grand prix level and with whom she has competed at able-bodied European Young Rider Championships.
Wells has ridden ‘”Noki” for three and a half years now and their confidence to go for it was apparent. “I go out to do my best. You can’t just go and ride a safe test. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity get away from me. I had a really bad day with my legs yesterday and we had a few problems with the saddle earlier in the week as he has changed shape slightly, so we had to make a few last-minute adjustments.
“I just have to thank all the GB support team – the osteopath, saddler, vet, physio, trainer, groom – as this is such a massive team effort just to get them in the right shape to let me do my job. We are so lucky to have funding from UK Sport and the National Lottery, to enable us to bring these people with us to competitions to help us prepare,” Wells said.
“I can’t thank my trainer Angela Weiss enough. We’ve worked together since 2004 and she has helped me grow up. She’s not just my trainer, but also my psychologist and everything else.
“Noki is an amazing horse to ride, Jackie Walker has been an absolutely amazing owner and I’m so lucky for that because, you know, good horses, they don’t come around very often.”
Fourth in Grade IV was Ireland’s James Dwyer and Orlando.
Germany’s Hannelore Brenner broke the British domination in each of the Grades with a wonderful performance on Women of the World earning her the third best score of the day. It is this very same partnership that currently holds European, World and Paralympic titles – so definitely firm medal contenders in the individual tests.
But the British are never far from the top spot, and it was reining European Freestyle champion Deborah Criddle who slotted neatly into second place on a very respectable score of 72.926 on 12-year-old 16.1hh LJT Akilles. Third place in the Grade III team test went to Denmark’s Annika Dalskov, silver medallist at WEG 2010 and at the 2008 Paralympic Games, riding the six-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, Aros A Fenris, by De Niro.
Criddle, 46, is competing in her fourth Paralympics, having won triple gold at the Athens Games eight years ago, and a score of 72.926 was beaten only by 2008 double Individual gold medallist Brenner.
Criddle has had the ride on the 12-year-old by Amiral, owned by The Lady Joseph Trust, since March last year, winning European team and freestyle gold as well as individual silver after just a few months together.
She said: “It was not our best test; I didn’t ride the first few movements enough because I didn’t know what to expect from him in this atmosphere. I now know I can ask for a lot more. It would have been nice to have broken the 74% barrier, but you have to push the barriers for that and need to have a lot more expression.
“I went in feeling I had to be a little careful in some movements. I also had a couple of late transitions, but I would rather show harmony and super-soft transitions. He had a look at something – a sandbag I think – but apart from that, he didn’t put a foot wrong. It is the rider accuracy that needs a bit more work!” Criddle said.
Brenner underlined her Individual medal credentials by posting an impressive 75.741 that suggested she could repeat her double gold of four years ago this time in London.
“Every test is another test. I never think about going out for gold, I do the best I can with my horse every time,” said the 49-year-old.
Just when you thought the day couldn’t get any better, Sophie Christiansen (GBR) third from last to go in the Grade Ia Team test, delivered the most amazing performance riding Janeiro 6 to finish on 83.765 – the top score of the Games so far.
Singapore’s Laurentia Tan did not disappoint for her first London 2012 experience, taking second place riding Ruben James 2, much to the delight of her family and friends standing by. Tan took up riding aged five at the Diamond Centre for the Disabled Riders having moved to London aged three. She was the first Asian to win an equestrian medal at the Paralympic Games in 2008 and is looking like a strong contender here, competing with Singapore’s first Para-Equestrian team at a Paralympic Games.
Third place in the Grade Ia Team test went to Helen Kearney on Mister Cool, giving the debutant Irish team some valuable points. The combination is trained by Heike Holstein and won European individual bronze last year.
Christiansen, who is competing at her third Games aged a mere 24, found Janeiro 6, a 15-year-old 16.2hh bay gelding by Jacquare through the Eilberg family last year. He unexpectedly became her top horse, having been her reserve, when Rivaldo Of Berkeley was put down at the end of last year.
She said: “I couldn’t ask for a better horse with a better temperament. I knew he would be perfect in that environment. Obviously you can never test it out as no one has 10,000 people to hand. I have had him one year, so our partnership is still relatively new. He is so fantastic; I knew he would do the job. “
Christiansen also acknowledged her back up team and, in particular, her trainer of 10 years, Clive Milkins: “We know each other inside out; we’re like an old married couple.”
She will be first to go in her next test, the individual on Sunday. She said: “It’s not the best draw, but you can’t change it and someone has to go first.”
Overall, the British riders took the top spot in all the Grades for the Team test events with the exception of Grade III where Hannelore Brenner broke the spell to take pole position ahead of British team member Deborah Criddle. Given their remarkable performance at all levels, they are set on a course for gold and there is little that could stop them now – only the next two days will tell how they fare.
Runner up position and third place will be hotly disputed with Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, USA, Ireland, Belgium and France battling for the coveted Paralympic medals. There will be a lot of pressure on the riders this weekend as they set out on their first individual performances whilst trying to secure points for their teams. It’s been a remarkable couple of days for Ireland so far, on their first team equestrian experience at a Paralympic Games looking very determined with their top three riders claiming 3rd, 4th and 7th places.
On Saturday Grades II and Ib will be in action after a day of rest for the Individual Championship Tests where they will be competing not only for individual medals in their respective Grades but also securing the final points (from their Grades) towards the team scores.
Ground Jury president Kjell Myhre (NOR) said the sport had taken a big step forward at these Games.
“The quality of the riding, the horses and also the diversity of the teams and their sporting professionalism reflects just how far the sport has come. There have been lots of sporting highlights over the past two days and the crowds have been amazing, very supportive and sensitive to the riders needs – waving instead of clapping – and knowledgeable of the sport.”
- At 60 years of age Eleonore Elstone (CAN) in Grade IV was the oldest competitor in Friday’s team test events.
- At just 15 years of age, Grade Ia Pui Ting Natasha Tse from Hong Kong was the youngest competitor in Friday’s events.
- Rihards Snikus made history as the first Latvian to ever compete in the equestrian events of the Paralympic Games; he took part in the Grade Ia Team test event
- 10 of Friday’s 51 competitors were over the age of 45
- 12 of Friday’s 51 Competitors were under the age of 25
- 4 of Friday’s 51 competitors have won Paralmypic medals in the past: Sophie Christiansen (GBR), Laurentia Tan (SIN), Nathalie Bizet (FRA) and Philippa Johnson (RSA)
- Great Britain is the only nation to have a competitor in each of the Grades
|5||406||JORGENSEN L||DI CAPRIO||69.406||+|
|6||402||DEKEYZER U||CLEVERBOY VAN D’ABEL||68.625||+|
|7||409||WEIFEN L||DON TURNER||68.281||+|
|8||407||BIZET N||RUBICA III||67.281||+|
|9||404||VERMEULEN C||WHOONEY TUNES||66.750||+|
|13||414||JOHNSON P||LORD LOUIS||63.125||+|
Results – Grade III
|1||307||BRENNER H||WOMEN OF THE WORLD||75.741||+|
|2||306||CRIDDLE D||LJT AKILLES||72.926||+|
|3||302||DALSKOV A||AROS A FENRIS||72.889||+|
|4||310||VOETS S||VEDET PB||72.037||+|
|5||303||SUNESEN S||THY’S QUE FAIRE||71.333||+|
|7||305||VINCHON V||FLIPPER D’OR||69.333||+|
|9||312||STOCK R||RIMINI PARK EMMERICH||65.481||+|
|12||301||GUGLIALMELLI LYNCH||NIRVANA PURE INDULGENCE||59.519||+|
|1||005||CHRISTIANSEN S||JANEIRO 6||83.765||+|
|2||012||TAN L||RUBEN JAMES 2||74.235||+|
|3||007||KEARNEY H||MISTER COOL||72.235||+|
|5||014||PONESSA D||WESTERN ROSE||70.235||+|
|6||009||MORGANTI S||ROYAL DELIGHT||69.824||+|
|7||004||ROSENHART L||PRIORS LADY RAWAGE||68.765||+|
|10||008||SAVAGE G||BLUES TIP TOP TOO||68.000||+|
|12||003||SCHLOSS J||INSPECTOR REBUS||63.882||+|
|14||001||OAKLEY R||STATFORD MANTOVANI||57.588||+|