Natasha Baker secured the first equestrian gold of the Games for Britain on Saturday as Lee Pearson was knocked into silver place in his category.
At the age of 10, Natasha Baker announced to her parents that she was going to win a Paralympic gold medal.
On Saturday she delivered on her promise when she secured the first equestrian gold of the Games, and marked the dawn of a new era for Britain’s outstanding Paralympic dressage team.
Baker, 22, wiped away tears as she was presented with her award at her first ever Games.
“It is incredible. This is what I have been dreaming of for ages,” she said, after her mother, Lorraine, helped her on to the stage.
“When I got on that podium, I saw all the flags and everybody cheering. It was just 'wow’ and I will never forget it.”
Riding Cabral, an 11-year-old gelding, Baker narrowly beat the German competition with a score of 76.857 — setting a new Paralympic Grade II record in the process. “We kind of stepped it up a gear today – he just felt amazing,” she said.
But the closing moments of the competition were fraught with nerves for Baker, who was one of the first riders to perform her test and then had an agonising two-hour wait to see if anyone would better her score.
“I stayed out the back of the arena for a long time and was texting my boyfriend Sam Schofield, 23, who was among the crowd watching, to see what was happening. It was close, and I have literally got no nails left.”
But Team GB’s joy for Baker was tinged with sadness as Lee Pearson, the veteran champion who was unbeaten in every Paralympic Games since Sydney, was knocked into silver place in his category by 51-year-old Australian Joann Formosa. His main rival, Austrian Pepo Puch, secured bronze.
Pearson revealed that before his test, he had sent Baker a text message to congratulate her on her success.
“I sent her a text saying, 'Well done baby star,’” he said. “And she texted back, 'Good luck OAP star.’”
In the end, the youngest rider in the British team went one better than the veteran.
Baker contracted transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spine that affects the nerve endings, at the age of 14 months. But the young girl from Uxbridge was riding horses before she could walk — her first ride on her mother’s pony, tucked inside a basket saddle when she was only six months old. Physiotherapists told her parents that riding would help relieve the constant pain in her back, and so she began to ride regularly, supported by her father Phil, a former national drag racer, and Mrs Baker, who also rode competitively in the showing and eventing world, and now coaches her daughter.
At the age of nine, after training with her mother, she won the junior Pony Club and Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) competition. Recognising her talent, the head trainer at the RDA club started giving her private lessons.
Without the strength in her legs to push the horse forward, Baker has to train them to respond to her voice and to movements she makes on the seat. She finds it easier to ride without stirrups, but admits that she had great difficulty working out her left from her right when riding, which confused the horse, so she used to have black gloves with Tipp-Ex marks of “L” and “R”.
“Riding is all I wanted to do and it is meant to look easy —that is my aim. It is just about elegance and harmony with the rider and horse. But it is hard when you have no use of your legs.
“But when I’m on the horse I don’t feel restricted. I can go fast for once, and feel freer than I have ever felt.”
Pearson, who lives in Cheddleton in Staffordshire, scored gold medal hat-tricks in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, winning the individual, team and freestyle competitions.
The 38 year-old was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that meant the muscle in his limbs did not grow properly before he was born.
His mother Lynda, a psychiatric nurse, sat the young Lee on a donkey, Annie, which Pearson described as “my hairy BMX bike”.
Since then, Pearson has proved himself to be a natural with horses, beating 2,000 able-bodied competitors in 2003 to become British Dressage National Champion.
He joked last month that his training regime consisted of eating curry and drinking Malibu and coke. He is currently in a relationship with Ben, an 18-year-old groom.
Pearson said his performance on Saturday had been beset by his horse being off-form, and his own nerves.
“Gentleman is so insecure. I don’t think he’ll be going to another Paralympics,” he said. “I had more nerves today than ever before in my life. I couldn’t go near the stables beforehand.”
He could yet equal the gold record set by Britain’s most garlanded Paralympians – wheelchair racer Baroness Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts, who both hold 11 golds — if he triumphs in today’s team and tomorrow’s freestyle competitions.
On Saturday he said he hoped to “redeem himself” by winning them. “It is all a numbers game and this silver means as much to me as the others. I am as equally as proud of it.
“Hopefully I will redeem myself to win that gold medal on Monday and with the team trial on Sunday.”
Natasha Baker wins second dressage gold medal with record score on Cabral
It is now sporting legend that, as a 10 year-old watching the Sydney games, Natasha Baker turned to her mother and said she would one day ride at the Paralympics and win a gold medal.
However, after five minutes of near perfect harmony with her Polish-bred gelding Cabral in Greenwich Park’s sunlit equestrian arena yesterday, she rendered that prediction only half right by winning her second gold medal within 48 hours.
Soothsaying may be out as a career option now but Baker, 22, is that rare bird, a double Paralympic gold medallist. This time it was in the freestyle and it will make a fine pair with the one she won on Saturday in the Grade III individual competition.
Whatever the discipline, the hallmark of any great sportsman or woman is to consistently produce their best when it really matters and Baker did that with bells on. Not only did she win, she did so with a Paralympic record score for Grade III freestyle and personal best of 82.800 percent, a figure to dishearten her rivals.
In Paralympic dressage that score is stratospheric and it enrolled her in Greenwich’s most exclusive association of the moment, the over-80 club. The only other member is her team-mate Sophie Christiansen, who goes for her third gold on Tuesday.
“It felt like the best test I’ve ever done,” said Baker, who had already nominated the post box in the high street of her home town of Uxbridge for a golden respray after her first medal.
“And what a place to do it. I can’t explain what it feels like getting it here. I knew it [the score] would be good but not that good. When I was 10 I said I’d win one gold, I never imagined it would be two.”
Unlike the individual test which examines a horse and rider’s accuracy in a series of compulsory moves, freestyle includes other things such as artistic merit, musical interpretation, inventiveness and choreography. She revealed, however, that it had not all gone quite to plan which had required some quick thinking on the hoof.
“I got so far behind the music I had to improvise,” she explained. “I don’t know why it happened but I think it [the repair work] actually looked quite good. I think I might improvise a bit more often in the future.”
She added: “I think I’ve developed as a rider and a person over the last six days and I’ve learned a lot about my horse. I never imagined he’d come here and be so settled.”
Baker, who has transverse myelitis, also divulged a superstition that will no doubt give the team nutritionist apoplexy. “I have lots of superstitions,” she let slip. “I had a McDonald’s on opening ceremony night, which was a bit cheeky, and it was before my first day of competing. It went so well on the first day that I have had one each night before I compete, and it was the same meal each time – a chicken legend with mayo. I even had a spot. I never get spots, you could tell I’d been eating McDonald's – but it was worth it.”
Britta Napel, of Germany, took silver, as she had done behind Baker on Saturday with another German, Angelika Trabert also doubling up in bronze.
Showing the spirit that has dominated competition for five days at Greenwich, Baker, riding her pink electric buggy, gave Napel in her manual wheelchair, a tow round the arena to the podium.
After a hug for Cabral, Baker was asked if she had any messages for any 10 year-olds who might be inspired by her just as she was inspired by Lee Pearson, the man she has outshone at these Games.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum You cannot post attachments in this forum You cannot download attachments in this forum