ON THE ROAD TO RIO

Gold medal­list says prepa­ra­tions are go­ing well for 2016

Harefield Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - by Pippa Field tms-sport@trin­i­tymir­ror.com

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.

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■ GLORY: Natasha Baker with her gold medal

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