Equestrianism: Natasha Baker cooks up a storm but Lee Pearson fails
Double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin led the tributes to Natasha Baker after she won a second Paralympic Games gold medal at Greenwich Park yesterday. Baker followed up her individual championship gold by landing the Grade II freestyle crown with a Paralympic record score of 82.800 per cent. It was the British para-equestrian team's seventh medal of the Games, which leaves them needing three more from four remaining events to equal their record haul at Beijing in 2008.
However, Lee Pearson failed in his attempt to win an 11th Paralympics gold medal. The 38-year-old from Staffordshire was beaten into third place by Grade Ib freestyle winner, Austrian Pepo Puch, while Finland's Katja Karjalainen won silver. Pearson had never been beaten in three successive Paralympics before London, but his score of 74.200 aboard Gentleman was not enough. He picked up a 10th gold in the team competition, but his quest to join former wheelchair athlete Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts on 11 golds will have to wait until Rio 2016.
Dujardin, who is poised to become the new world dressage No 1, claimed Olympic freestyle and team gold in the same Greenwich arena less than a month ago, and she has lavished praise on 22-year-old Baker's achievement.
"What an amazing result. I hope she enjoys every minute of it," Dujardin said. "She is such a fantastic rider, and I admire her for what she can do. She certainly doesn't let her disability stand in her way. It is brilliant. My tummy felt like it did when I won. I am so excited for her."
Baker and Cabral faced tough competition in the 20-rider class, including former Paralympic gold medal winner Lauren Barwick and the twin German threat posed by Britta Napel (Aquilina 3) and Angelika Trabert (Ariva-Avanti). But whereas the individual championship medallists – today's same trio in the same order – had been separated by less than 1 per cent, Baker put daylight between her rivals this time. Napel finished second on 77.400 per cent and Trabert third on 76.150, while Eilish Byrne took a superb fourth spot aboard Youri a day after Ireland won team bronze and Grade Ia individual silver.
Baker, who has decided that her gold postbox as a Paralympic champion will be situated on the high street in her home town of Uxbridge, hailed Dujardin's influence. "Charlotte is fantastic," she said. "We are really good friends. She competed in her first Europeans last year, as I did, and we both won gold, and now we've done it in our first Games this year. She is such a lovely, bubbly girl, and we get on really well. It was great to hear about her experience in the Olympic Games."
Reflecting on her own golden double, Baker added: "It feels amazing. I never imagined that at my first Games in London I would go home with two gold medals. It's incredible. I don't know what to say, to be honest, and that doesn't happen a lot."
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