Three new equestrian champions were crowned at the 2012 Paralympic Games at London at the weekend, and combinations also competing for team points in Grades IV, III and Ia.
There were 39 combinations competing for individual honours and team points, three Individual Championship medal ceremonies, and the overall Team score to fight for.
The day got off to a spectacular start for all Belgians with Michele George and Rainman claiming their first gold medal at London 2012, both Olympic and Paralympic and across all sports. Their achievement also goes down in the history books as the first equestrian gold medal for Belgium at a Paralympic Games since Para-Equestrian joined the programme in 1996. Next came a stand-out performance from Germany’s Hannelore Brenner and Women of the World to retain their 2008 Paralympic title whilst in Grade Ia, Sophie Christiansen did the home crowd proud with another brilliant test that was verging on perfection.
Meanwhile, as the day progressed, the team scores began to take shape. It was clear that Great Britain was on the road to gold and that unless things went terribly wrong, Germany was assured a silver. However bronze was up for grabs with the Danes, the Dutch, Belgium and Ireland within inches of the podium. It was literally in the closing stages when Helen Kearney and Mister Cool, third last to go in Grade Ia, produced a brilliant test to earn a score of 76.700 taking not only individual silver but putting Ireland in third place on 428.313 with just over half a point on The Netherlands’ score of 428.253.
Not only did she help Ireland secure their first team medal for a first team participation, she also secured Ireland’s first individual medal at equestrian events of a Paralympic Games since it joined the programme in 1996. For a first team participation, Ireland have set the bar very high for future Games.
Great Britain are the team title holders since 1996 and their score today set a new record at 468.817 followed by Germany on 440.970.
After Lee Pearson’s shock defeat on Saturday, it was favourite Sophie Wells’ turn to be denied the individual Grade IV gold, despite scoring another international personal best of 76.323% with Pinocchio.
Michele George from Belgium came to London with the hope of turning her two previous silver Championship medals (European in 2009 and World in 2010) into gold and she did with a brilliant performance riding Rainman and a personal best for the Individual Championship test on a score of 77.065. “The ride was genius, it was like a puzzle, all the pieces fit together” said the 38 year-old professional horse rider trainer.
Wells knew that any errors would put her gold medal hopes in peril up against such fierce competition.
“I followed Michele and heard her score outside the arena. I knew that it would have been possible (to win) as long as I didn’t have any mistakes, but the mistake was there. You can’t change it. The standard is so high, but I’ll rectify my test for Tuesday,” the 22 year-old said.
“‘Noki’ was a little apprehensive of the crowd when he went in today. I just tried to nail every movement, but had that one small mistake. His power and size perhaps are against me with my disability, but he’s phenomenal and has the potential to win gold in the future. I knew I had blown it. I am disappointed, but know I did my best. That’s horses for you.”
Looking forward to her next chance to win a gold medal on Tuesday in the freestyle, Wells said: “I want my gold medal back!”
Michele George had an accident while lungeing a horse in 2008, which left her wheelchair-bound for two years after the operation to fix her knee went wrong.
She has had the 10-year-old German-bred gelding by Rubicell, known as “Fuchs”, since a three-year-old and he was turned out for two years while she was incapacitated.
An ecstatic George, who trains with Jean Bemelmans and competed at small tour level before her accident, said: “I came second to Sophie at the Worlds in Kentucky in 2010, so I knew I had to put on a bit of pressure and it was now or never. Sometimes you have to take some risks. He was genius. It was like a puzzle and all the pieces fitted together.”
Third place in Grade IV went to Frank Hosmar from the Netherlands who was absolutely delighted with his performance and that of his relatively inexperienced horse Alphaville. It was only in July that they decided the 7yr old Alphaville would be coming to London instead of his experienced mount Tїesto. Trainer Adelinde Cornelissen made the journey from The Netherlands this morning to support him and watched him receive his medal.
“Alphaville’s a gentle soul and always willing to work. I am really pleased with the performance we did today and our bronze medal,” he said after the prize giving ceremony.
A professional rider and trainer, Hosmar has been a para-equestrian competitor since 2009 after he fell on glass and cut all muscles, nerves and tendons in his hand in 1997.
Ireland’s James Dwyer, who is based in the US, claimed sixth place on his gelding Orlando with a score of 68.516 per cent.
Canada’s Eleonore Elstone moved up three spots for her Individual Championship test to finish in seventh, with a score of 68.226%, riding Zareno.
“My test today was better than my first test,” said Elstone when asked about how her Team test differed from her Individual Championship test. “Zareno was really on and he wanted to perform in the ring. We had one mistake, but we are getting there.”
“I was happy with his energy, his way of going and his focus,” added Elstone. “I am really looking forward to riding my freestyle on Tuesday.”
There were lots of seasoned riders and horses in Grade III but Hannelore Brenner and Women of the World – defending Paralympic champions – convincingly took the top spot ahead of Great Britain’s Deborah Criddle, 2004 Paralympic gold medallist and Annika Dalskov, also a former Paralmypic, World and European medallist, from Denmark in third place on the six-year-old De Niro gelding Aros A Fenris.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Germany’s Brenner and Women of the World as the nerves, pressure and concentration got the better of her in the arena leading to a mistake in the routine and a 2 point deduction from each of the judges. But once she was back on course, Women of the World stayed right with her throughout and all the way to gold.
“This is the most amazing medal I have ever won, Women of the World just gets better and better every day and is she is just wonderful,” said Brenner of her 17 year-old hanoverian mare by Walt Disneywho also took her to gold in 2008. They have been together for seven years. Brenner, who sustained a spinal injury while eventing in 1986, has now won a total of 28 individual championship medals, 16 with her current partner.
“Since I watched the London Olympics on TV a few weeks ago, I have been permanently excited about coming. Britain is a horse nation, so I knew it would be fantastic here. My mare was genius, even better than two days ago, and was completely with me,” Brenner said.
For Deborah Criddle, first in the draw, it was a lengthy wait but given the years of experience, composure was not an issue as she explained later: “Yes I’ve been there, done that, you learn to live with things. There’s always another day but not, unfortunately, another London 2012. But you just have to deal with that.
“Yes, there was a mistake. I had too much bend and couldn’t contain what I’d created, so we had an abrupt stop. He’s a sensitive chappie and there was more atmosphere today, but he grew into it in a good way. We had a lot of super movements, and overall it felt fantastic.
“When you go first, it’s always difficult. You have to go out and push for everything. You have no option and know you have better riders coming behind you. There’s always another day, but not, unfortunately, another London 2012. I’ve only had him for just over a year and performing in front of 10,000 people is a lot to ask of a horse. I thought he coped brilliantly well,” she said.
Last on the day’s busy agenda, Grade Ia individual Championship Test – the last of the five Grades to go, revealing both the Grade Ia medallists and also providing the last scores for the Team tally.
Even before Sophie Christiansen and Janeiro 6 entered the arena for their Grade 1a Individual Championship Test, it was highly unlikely that Britain would be beaten and her score of 82.75% just confirmed Britain’s reputation as the powerhouse of para-equestrian dressage.
Norwegian judge Kjell Myhre explained why Christiansen and ‘Rio’ gain the exceptional marks they do: “The quality of the walk is exceptional. It’s the activity and consistency of the contact.”
Christiansen’s long-time trainer Clive Milkins said; “This gold is in memory of Jane Goldsmith, who pioneered para-dressage in Britain. She found Rio for us from the Eilberg family and without her influence, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
First to go, Christiansen then waited for two hours as the remaining 13 competitors attempted to close the gap, but it was to no avail and she comfortably won.
“I went in trying to think this was just a normal training session, but there happened to be 10,000 people watching,” Christiansen said.
“It’s a hard task waiting for two hours, but I couldn’t be happier. All I could do was my best – by going first I just had to focus on my own performance and set the bar really high. I couldn’t have asked for anymore.”
Helen Kearney, the one to watch following a strong Team test and third last to go in Sunday’s Grade Ia Individual Championships Test, produced a magnificent test on former eventing horse, the 13-year-old Irish Sport horse Mister Cool, to clinch silver and push the Irish team into bronze medal position with just over half point on The Netherlands. That makes two medals in one day for a nation that had never before sent a team to the equestrian events of the Paralympic Games – just individuals – and had never won a medal before.
Kearney, who is trained by Heike Holstein, said: “This is unreal. I know I had been working really hard. We were sixth after the team test and didn’t think we had a hope in hell; to get bronze is out of this world. We have come such a long way as a nation since 2009 when we struggled to finish in the top 10.”
Horse Sport Ireland Chairman Joe Walsh said: “Today has been a remarkable achievement, especially as this was the first year that Ireland had qualified a dressage team for the Paralympics. My congratulations go to everyone involved in this wonderful success.”
A personal best was also achieved in the Grade 1a championship by Ireland’s Geraldine Savage with Blues Tip Top Too, when the duo finished in seventh place on a score of 68.800.
Third place went to Laurentia Tan, Singapore and Asia’s first and only Paralympic medalist in equestrian sport to date – winning bronze in 2008, and again on Sunday. “I’m so excited, so happy. I couldn’t have asked for better. London is my second home and I just want to scream,” she said.
Last in the arena was Rihards Snikus, the first Latvian to compete in equestrian sport at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He was over the moon with his first individual Paralympic mark, taking fourth place just shy of a medal in Grade Ia.
Canada’s Jody Schloss earned a score of 67.700% to finish in 11th place.
“In my Team Test, I was worried about getting through it, but my horse noticed everything,” said Schloss. “During this test my horse was really good. I was talking to him the whole time to keep him calm, and he listened to me the whole time.”
“My hope for this competition was to do my personal best, and I feel that I have done that for my first two tests,” she said.
Lee Pearson’s team gold will be his 10th Paralympic gold, but he will have to wait until Tuesday’s medal ceremony to receive it. He will have the opportunity to equal the British record of 11, held by wheelchair racer Baroness Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts, when he competes in the freestyle tomorrow.
Pearson said: “I think this has been our strongest team, but it has been the toughest gold to gain.”
David Hunter, team manager at his third Paralympic Games, said: “Our priority was to win team gold and as many individual medals as possible. It’s fantastic.”
Team trainer Michel Assouline added: “This is history for us. Very rarely does a country have a rider in each grade and this is the first time a country has ever won a medal in each grade. When you think that the drop scores were above 70%, that is also amazing.”
• Grades II and Ib will have their Freestyle tests on Monday, followed by Grades IV, III and Ia on Tuesday.
1, Great Britain 468.817
2, Germany 440.970
3, Ireland 428.313
GBR 6 (3 gold, 3 silver)
GER 4 (1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
AUS 1 gold
BEL 1 gold
IRL 2 (1 silver, 1 bronze)
AUT 1 bronze
DEN 1 bronze
NED 1 bronze
SIN 1 bronze
|1||005||CHRISTIANSEN S||JANEIRO 6||82.750||+|
|2||007||KEARNEY H||MISTER COOL||76.700||+|
|3||012||TAN L||RUBEN JAMES 2||73.650||+|
|5||004||ROSENHART L||PRIORS LADY RAWAGE||70.000||+|
|6||014||PONESSA D||WESTERN ROSE||69.200||+|
|7||008||SAVAGE G||BLUES TIP TOP TOO||68.800||+|
|8||009||MORGANTI S||ROYAL DELIGHT||68.650||+|
|11||003||SCHLOSS J||INSPECTOR REBUS||67.700||+|
|12||001||OAKLEY R||STATFORD MANTOVANI||67.300||+|
|1||307||BRENNER H||WOMEN OF THE WORLD||73.467||+|
|2||306||CRIDDLE D||LJT AKILLES||71.267||+|
|3||302||DALSKOV A||AROS A FENRIS||71.233||+|
|4||303||SUNESEN S||THY’S QUE FAIRE||69.700||+|
|5||310||VOETS S||VEDET PB||68.767||+|
|7||305||VINCHON V||FLIPPER D’OR||67.433||+|
|9||312||STOCK R||RIMINI PARK EMMERICH||65.733||+|
|11||301||GUGLIALMELLI LYNCH||NIRVANA PURE INDULGENCE||60.200||+|
|4||404||VERMEULEN C||WHOONEY TUNES||71.613||+|
|5||406||JORGENSEN L||DI CAPRIO||70.258||+|
|8||402||DEKEYZER U||CLEVERBOY VAN D’ABEL||68.000||+|
|9||409||WEIFEN L||DON TURNER||67.581||+|
|10||407||BIZET N||RUBICA III||67.581||+|
|11||414||JOHNSON P||LORD LOUIS||65.774||+|