Sir Lee Pearson has described winning his 12th Paralympic gold medal in at the Tokyo Games today as “very, very emotional”.
Lee, who won the Grade II Individual Test, is the world’s most decorated equestrian Paralympian and his feat in Japan was made all the more special by partnering his home-bred Breezer.
“I cried on the second X on hold in the arena,” said Lee, who has competed at all six Paralympics since Sydney 2000. “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.
“I didn’t think having a home-bred horse would give this a little extra meaning but it has,” continued Lee. “I saw [Breezer] 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.”
Taking bronze behind Lee and silver medallist Austria’s Pepo Puch (Sailor’s Blue) was Britain’s Georgia Wilson riding Sakura, for whom a medal was the ultimate result at her Paralympic debut.
Georgia said she will “treasure” her medal forever and described Sakura as a “little legend”.
Georgia Wilson (GBR) picked up a fairy tale of a bronze medal on Sakura, with 72.765%. She was the team’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.
The individual medals for Grades II, IV and V were decided today and the top eight ranked athletes in each Grade qualify for the Individual Freestyle to Music on Monday 30 August.
‘My face told it’
There was more emotion on display when the Netherlands’ Sanne Voets (NED) won the Grade IV, adding the gold medal missing from her collection of European, World and Paralympic titles.
Her score of 76.585% on Demantur N.O.P was the highest score of the day.
“I think my face pretty much told it,” said Sanne. “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 realise again that 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,” continued Sanne.
“But when you are sitting on a horse like that, there’s no way you cannot smile and not enjoy your test.”
‘Best of 8 gave her best’
Today’s final gold medal went to Michele George, in just her seventh competition with Best of 8, who finished ahead of Britain’s Sophie Wells and Don Cara M. The latter horse is contesting his first ever overseas competition.
Dutchman Frank Hosmar took the bronze on Alphaville N.O.P.
Michele was wearing the gloves and boots she wore at the 2016 Rio Games where she won silver in the Grade V Freestyle on the late FBW Rainman.
“I’m really proud of my mare and I enjoyed the ride,” said Michele. “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.”
Britain’s on top
At the end of day one of the competition, Great Britain top the Para Dressage medal table with one gold, one silver and a bronze, with The Netherlands and Belgium on one gold and a bronze each.
There are 11 sets medals to be won altogether across the five Grades: five individual, five Freestyle to Music and one overall team medal.
Individual medals for Grades I and III will be decided tomorrow.
Main image from left to right: Pepo Puch (silver), Lee Pearson (gold) and Georgia Wilson (bronze). Photo by FEI/Liz Gregg.