Tokyo, Japan – August 26, 2021 – Lee Pearson (GBR) collected his 12th Paralympic Games gold medal on the opening day of Tokyo 2020 at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park by winning the Grade II Individual Test. Sanne Voets (NED) also finished on top of the podium in the Grade IV Individual Test – the one gold medal missing from her collection of European, World and Paralympic titles, and the last gold medal of the night went to Michele George (BEL) in just her seventh competition with Best of 8 in the Grade V Individual test.
Emotions were running high, as were temperatures, but everyone kept their cool for the first individual medals up for grabs in Grades II, IV and V. The all-important qualification for the Individual Freestyle to Music Test was also up for grabs, awarded to the top eight ranked athletes in each Grade who would again compete Monday, August 30th if they claimed a spot.
Beatrice de Lavalette and Clarc of the U.S. Para Dressage Team were the first combination to contest the Grade II Individual Test in the main stadium, earning a 70.265%, while Kate Shoemaker and Solitaer 40 closed out their competition with a 70.854% as the last combination in the Grade IV Individual Test. Both combinations qualified for their Grade’s Individual Freestyle to Music.
“It was a very enjoyable ride,” said de Lavalette of her ride with Clarc. “I went through my test about a thousand times. I wasn’t really nervous, but just excited. The excitement took over and I knew my test, I knew my horse was right, and we were together and in sync, so I couldn’t be happier with the ride.”
“I’m really pleased with my horse, though a little bit disappointed with the score of course since we had hoped to be in the medals and I felt our ride today was quite good, but all I can do is be happy with my performance in the ring and I absolutely love my horse to pieces,” said Shoemaker after her test. “The energy in there was phenomenal. It just gives you a sense of power and the horses can feel it and it’s just so much fun.”
In the Grade II Individual test, Pearson rode his home-reared Breezer to the gold-medal title with a score of 76.265% to finish ahead of Pepo Puch (AUT), who rode Sailor’s Blue to score a 73.441%. These two highly experienced athletes are used to tussling for the top spot, with Puch claiming Individual gold in Rio ahead of Pearson and vice-versa for the Freestyle medals. Georgia Wilson (GBR) picked up a fairytale bronze medal on Sakura, with a 72.765%. She was Great Britain’s reserve rider and was called to the Paralympic Games just two weeks ago, when her teammate Sophie Christiansen was forced to withdraw due to a veterinary issue with her horse.
“I am very, very emotional. I cried on the second X on hold in the arena. It’s been such a long journey. Breezer is a horse who I’ve had since he was born. I am also a dad myself now, and that has also made me more emotional,” said Pearson after his ride. “I didn’t think having a home-bred horse would give this a little extra meaning, but it has. I saw him at hours old in a field and to complete that test, which at my last test event I did not complete, that added to the emotion.”
There was more emotion on display in the Grade IV Individual test when Voets scored a 76.585% on Demantur N.O.P, which was the highest score of the day, while Rodolpho Riskalla (BRA) took the silver medal on Don Henrico with a 74.659%. Belgium’s Manon Claeys marked her Paralympic debut with a bronze medal, scoring a 72.853% on San Dior 2.
“I think my face pretty much told it,” said Voets. “I’m just over the moon with him. He still amazes me every day and he travelled here well. When you enter the stable and you see he’s happy, relaxed and at ease, you realize again that’s what is most important. Of course you’re here to perform at your very best and you want to win medals, but there’s always one thing more important than the result, and that’s just your horse being happy. But when you are sitting on a horse like that, there’s no way you cannot smile and not enjoy your test.”
In the Grade V Individual test, George scored a 76.524% to claim the top spot while wearing the same gloves and boots that she wore at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, at which she won the Grade V Freestyle and a silver in the Individual Test on the late FBW Rainman. Claiming the silver medal, Sophie Wells (GBR) rode her reserve horse Don Cara M to an impressive 74.405% in his first ever overseas competition. Frank Hosmar (NED) took the bronze on Alphaville N.O.P. with a 73.405%.
“I’m really proud of my mare and I enjoyed the ride,” remarked George. “And this is for me the most important thing, that I could come home and say I’ve done everything I could. She had a beautiful performance and she gave her best. Best of 8 gave her best! She did great half passes and I think she had a very nice extended canter as well, so it’s amazing. I can’t find the right words to express how impressive it was for me. It is a once in a lifetime experience.”
At the end of competition day one, Great Britain topped the Para Dressage medal table with one gold, one silver, and a bronze, with The Netherlands and Belgium close behind with a gold and a bronze each.
There are a total of 11 sets of medals being contested at the Para Equestrian Events of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games across the five Grades – five Individual, five Freestyle to Music and one overall team medal.
Friday, August 27, Grades I and III Individual Test medals will be decided. Roxanne Trunnell, the world No.1 in Grade I and across all five Grades, will be aiming for her first Paralympic title. In Grade III, look out for a close battle for the medals between Natasha Baker (GBR), Tobias Thorning Jorgensen (DEN), Rixt van der Horst (NED) and Rebecca Hart (USA).