ON THE ROAD TO RIO
Gold medallist says preparations are going well for 2016
UXBRIDGE double Paralympic dressage champion Natasha Baker says the building blocks are firmly in place for a tilt at more glory at Rio 2016.
Three years ago, Baker, who suffers from transverse myelitis, a condition that has left her with permanent nerve damage and severe weakness in her legs since contracting a virus aged 14 months, won Britain’s first equestrian gold at the London 2012 Paralympics in the individual championship test grade II event.
It was followed two days later with a second gold as she and horse Cabral set another Paralympic record on the way to victory in the freestyle event.
Since then she has continued to accumulate titles, taking treble gold at the 2013 European Championships and team gold and individual silver at last year’s World Equestrian Games.
And while this September’s European Championships in Deauville, France, are the main focus this year, Baker admits Rio is never far from her mind.
The 25-year-old, who keeps her London medals on display at home to remind her of her achievements, is this year competing on two horses, old faithful Cabral and young mare Sooki.
And with the latter growing in experience with each competition, Baker believes it leaves her well placed to challenge for a spot on the Great Britain team for Rio.
“I’m definitely on target in terms of the road towards Rio. In fact I’m in an even stronger position than before London because I’ve got an extra horse,” she said.
“Cabral, or JP as we call him, is obviously the one that got me two golds in London, but Sooki is now coming to the forefront.
“I’ve given JP a bit of quiet year, while Sooki is picking up experience. JP does not really have to prove anything.
“I’ve just got to keep up the good work and get myself selected for France for the Europeans. I’m on target to do that and hopefully I can do well there.
“And then after that it starts all over again for Rio with qualification at the start of 2016.
“It’s part of the reason why I went to Doha at the start of the year, to get the horses used to flying and the heat.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t do even better in Rio. Other countries are catching us up, but we are in a strong position, and hopefully we can carry that forward to Rio.”
Baker will take a quick break from trying to secure selection for the European Championships in order to join in the celebrations for this year’s National Paralympic Day on Sunday, July 26.
Designed to help continue the legacy of London 2012, the annual event at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will feature elite athletics and swimming, as well as promoting disability sport, and Baker admits the chance to relive memories of London was something she was relishing.
Meanwhile, Baker has been named in the Great Britain Paraequestrian dressage squad announced by the British Dressage selectors for the upcoming FEI European Championships, which take place in Deauville, France, on September 17.
Tickets for National Paralympic Day are available at the Ticketmaster website http://www.ticketmaster. co.uk/npd2015/. #NPD2015 is supported by Spirit of 2012.
■ GLORY: Natasha Baker with her gold medal