It was a day for celebrations in the British equestrian camp after two medals were secured for ParalympicsGB in today’s Individual Championship events in Rio. The first day of the Individual competition saw Sophie Wells secure Gold in the Grade IV class, twenty years after the first Gold medal in the grade was won for GB in Atlanta. ParalympicsGB flag bearer and equestrian stalwart, Lee Pearson took his Games medal tally to thirteen after an impressive performance secured Silver in the Grade Ib test.
Entering the arena this morning, Sophie Wells aboard Valerius, a fourteen-year-old gelding which she has developed for the past ten years, looked ready for the challenge ahead. With a superb first centre line scoring high marks, the talented combination produced a stunning test in front of an atmospheric crowd with highlights coming in the collected trot and canter work.
With a score of 74.857% awarded, it was a tense wait for the 26-year-old with two riders left to go, including London 2012 Paralympic champion Michele George. As the final results came through there were celebrations as the Gold medal was confirmed for Sophie – her first Individual Gold at a Paralympic Games.
Commenting afterwards an emotional Sophie said; “It feels amazing, I can’t really describe it, there are no words that can describe how I’m feeling right now. I definitely feel a sense of pride, of my horse and my support team.
“It’s a very different environment at an away Paralympics having experienced a home one; it’s a massive logistical effort and we have a massive support team through the British Federation’s World Class Programme, UK Sport and National Lottery funding, which enables us to be the best prepared.
“It’s a massive journey, it isn’t just four years, and it isn’t just this week, its years and years of work. You have hard times but this just so makes up for it. I didn’t really realise until this morning that it was our first medal-winning opportunity [in equestrian] so to go out and do that is amazing.”
With Sophie taking the Gold, Silver went to Belgium’s Michele George (FBW Rainman) with The Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar (Alphaville) taking the Bronze.
This afternoon welcomed the Grade Ib athletes to the arena for their Individual Championship tests, with Great Britain’s Lee Pearson and Zion, owned by David and Lynda Pearson, Gillian Chinn and Lee, third to enter the arena. Scoring highly in the working trot and awarded eights from the judges for rider skill, Lee finished with 74.103%.
“I was really pleased,” commented Lee after his test, “I was pleased that my halts were square, the walk work was good but I think that the trot work could have been more connected. I’m really pleased with the score, if I come away with a medal I’ll be over the moon. He was very focussed and excited to be in there.”
Sitting in the lead heading into the final three riders, it was an anxious wait to see the final placing. With the scores for the rest of the riders confirmed it was Silver for Lee, securing his thirteenth Paralympic medal for Great Britain. Gold went to reigning Paralympic Ib champion Austria’s Pepo Puch (Fontainenoir) with Stinna Kaastrup (Smarties) of Denmark securing Bronze.
Commenting after receiving his Silver medal Lee said; “Really proud and proud of my horse, he really did do his best on the day. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more; he gave me everything.”
Tomorrow sees Great Britain’s Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham, all take to the arena once again for their Individual Championship tests, after which the team result (as well as the Individual Championship medals) will be confirmed.
Full results from today’s tests can be found on the Rio 2016 website