Baker’s thriving on the pressure of Rio
Gold medallist is ‘happy to be the one to beat’
ALREADY a double Paralympic champion, Natasha Baker claims the pride in representing your nation on the biggest stage is not diminished by former glories.
Baker, 26, won individual and freestyle dressage gold at London 2012 atop Cabral and she will return to the Paralympic Games this week to try and emulate her achievements of four years ago, on the same mount.
Having won double silver at last year’s European championships, Baker comes into the Games, which open this evening (Wednesday), confident of success and safe in the knowledge that her horse has done it all before.
“It’s such a massive honour to be representing my country again at my second Paralympic games and to be on the same horse is really special for me,” said the Uxbridge resident.
“If he was a schoolboy he would be the one that hands his homework in early. He’s a bit of a goody two-shoes, but he’s the most genuine [horse] in the world.
“He’s the sweetest and he just wants to try his best with everything he does, which is fantastic for me, and it’s a pleasure to ride him and he loves winning.
“He struts around the yard like ‘I’m a gold medallist; I’m the best, everybody look at me’.
“He’s a little bit of a diva but that can play into my hands because I can go into an arena and know he’s going to be like ‘wow, everyone check me out’ and to the judges ‘yes you can give me a ten’.”
Baker, who has severe nerve damage in her legs after contracting transverse myelitis at just 14 months old, is being sent to Rio by the British Paralympic Association, which is a registered charity responsible for funding, selecting and managing the ParalympicsGB team.
Rio is expected to be the most competitive Paralympic Games ever, but Baker is confident she is equipped to deal with the pressure.
“I love pressure; I think I do well under pressure so that’s a definite advantage for me,” she added.
“I have a bit of rivalry with a Dutch rider. She’s the current world and European champion so I think it will be between us two, but you never know with horses, something could spook them, literally anything can happen but it’s definitely expectation and I’m going in double Paralympic gold medallist and I want to retain that crown.
“I will be, for quite a lot of people, the one to beat. I like that that’s always what I’ve dreamt of, you have to take that pressure on board.”
Rio will present a greater challenge than a home games for Paralympics GB’s equestrian team with the prospect of the horse having to fly to the competition, but Baker is confident Cabral will cope.
“Luckily he’s flown before – only two of the five that have been selected have flown,” she said.
“They’ll leave here and group together in one place. They go out to Belgium then they’ll fly with all the other European horses out to Rio, they’ll get off the plane then it’s only an hour.
“They’ll have a day resting then it’ll be straight into work.”
You can help #Supercharge ParalympicsGB to Rio 2016 and beyond. Show your support for the team and find out more at www.paralympics.org.uk/superchargewww.paralympics.org.uk/ supercharge. ICKENHAM wheelchair tennis hero Jordanne Whiley reckons a gold medal at the Paralympics would complete her set.
Whiley, who will be joined in Rio by her fellow Hillingdon star Andy Lapthorne, has won her fair share of grand slams in the past but could only manage a bronze medal at London 2012 with partner Lucy Shuker.
Shuker is not Whiley’s regular partner in grand slams. That honour goes to Japan’s Yui Kamiji and the pair won their third straight Wimbledon doubles crown this summer, although she lost out in the inaugural singles final.
Whiley admits the pair are not as close off the court, but she is more determined than ever to claim victory in Brazil in order to add that elusive gold to her already bulging trophy cabinet.
“It would be the missing piece of the jigsaw,” Whiley explained. “I feel like I’ve achieved everything I want to achieve, I just don’t have that gold medal.
“Lucy and I have had to work very hard at our relationship. There are some people who just don’t naturally gel. We have to work on our relationship as well as the tennis, so it’s like double the work.
“We’re two very different people, we don’t naturally get on, so to get the bronze in London was a really big achievement for us.
“We are both professional athletes and when it comes to business, it’s business. There are no personal things there.”
Whiley and Eastcote ace Lapthorne do not have to wait long to get their paralympic campaigns under way as the wheelchair tennis events begin this weekend.
n ‘MASSIVE HONOUR’: (Top) Natasha Baker shows off her gold medal at Ascot in 2014; (left) flying the GB flag at Greenwich Park at the London 2012 P Paralympics; aboard Cabral at the 2012 Paralympics
n WELL DONE: Jordanne Whiley celebrates with supporters after winning the Wimbledon doubles title earlier this year