Britannia rules in Rio

Dreams did come true for many para-Equestrians at Rio.

Anne Dunham & LJT Lucas Normark, from the gold medal winning GB team (Image: FEI)
Anne Dunham & LJT Lucas Normark, from the gold medal winning GB team (Image: FEI)

Following superb wins by Natasha Baker and Sophie Christiansen in the grades II and Ia individual tests, Great Britain has claimed team gold at the Rio 2016 para dressage,  continuing an unbeaten run that began when the sport was first introduced to the Olympics (Atlanta, 1996). The British also remain undefeated in European and World championships too – a total of 18 team titles!

  “I’m absolutely thrilled,” said chef d’equipe Sarah Armstrong. “I couldn’t have wished for a better result.
“When I took on the role in November, I took a massive personal risk. They were coming off the back of a home Games and it was a big ask to return this and improve on it, but I just knew that the athletes, the horses and the amazing support team that we have… I just knew that we could do it.”
Gold Medalist Sophie Christiansen GBR (Image: FEI/ Liz Gregg)
Gold medallist Sophie Christiansen GBR (Image: FEI/ Liz Gregg)

The team, made up of Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham (both grade Ia), Natasha Baker (II) and Sophie Wells (IV) had a combined score of 453.306 to finish 20 points ahead of Germany in silver (433.321) with The Netherlands in bronze (430.353).

Natasha Baker (GBR) takes the gold, grade II individual test (Image: Liz Gregg/FEI)
Natasha Baker (GBR) takes the gold, grade II individual test (Image: Liz Gregg/FEI)

“It’s very exciting” said Anne, who has now won five titles with the team since starting her Paralympic career in 1996. “The one horror that all of us have at the moment is being on the team that doesn’t actually win the team gold medal. But we won it, and we won it in style.”

Silver Medalist Anne Dunham GBR and LJT Lucas Normark (Image: Liz Gregg)
Silver medallist Anne Dunham and LJT Lucas Normark (Image: Liz Gregg)

The result rounded off a good day for Great Britain, which started with Natasha’s win in the grade II individual. Riding Cabral she scored 73.400%, just short of two points clear of silver and bronze medallists, Demi Vermeulen, and Rixt Van der Horst, both from The Netherlands. .

Natasha Baker GBR Gold Medalist Grade II (Image: Liz Gregg)
Natasha Baker: “I’m still crying.” (Image: Liz Gregg)

The win was all the sweeter for Natasha as it follows her defeat to Van der Horst at WEG 2014 and the 2015 FEI European championships. In 2014 she was the strong favourite for gold but Cabral was spooked by TV cameras as he entered the arena.

“I’m so happy. I’m still shaking. I’m still crying,” said Natasha. “I was so worried he was going to come in here and do a repeat of WEG. I’m just so proud.
Natasha Baker GBR Gold Medalist Grade II (Image: Liz Gregg)
A gold medal for Natasha Baker in Grade II (Image: Liz Gregg)

“I just love him so much; he means the absolute world to me. I said to him as we were trotting round in the 10-minute box: ‘Just trust me JP, just trust me,’ and he did. He just worked with me and felt so relaxed. It wasn’t the best test we’ve ever done but I’m just over the moon with him.”

Sophie Christiansen GBR Gold and Sergio Oliva BRA Bronze celebrate their medals. Photo Liz Gregg
Britain’s Sophie Christiansen and Brazil’s Sergio Oliva celebrate their gold and bronze medals (Image: Liz Gregg)

Sophie Christiansen won the grade Ia individual title on Athene Lindebjerg with the top score of the week so far, 78.217%. Anne Dunham (GBR), competing at her fifth Games was second, and there was a hugely popular bronze for Brazil’s Sergio Oliva, who is his country’s second-ever Para dressage medallist (Marcos Alves took two bronzes in Beijing 2008).

“This is surreal at the moment,” said Sophie. “I’ve had a change of coach and just injury after injury and up until last week, I didn’t even know which horse I would be bringinng.
Sophie Christiansen GBR Gold, Anne Dunham GBR Silver, and Sergio Oliva Brazil Bronze. (Image: Liz Gregg)
Sophie Christiansen (centre, gold) Anne Dunham (left, silver) and Sergio Oliva of Brazil with his hugely popular bronze (Image: Liz Gregg)

“I’ve always wanted to do my best at everything I put my hand to – academics, sport. It’s going to sound big-headed but I think you have to have more than talent to stay at the top.”

 “For me it is a dream come true,” added Sergio. “I have worked for more than 12 years to get this bronze medal, so for me it means gold. I’ve worked hard to find the good combination – the Two Hearts – which to me means one heart, and to get a medal in my home country is amazing. I don’t have any words. I love this. I love this moment. This is a dream.”