Baker’s thriv­ing on the pres­sure of Rio

Gold medal­list is ‘happy to be the one to beat’

Harefield Gazette - - SPORT - By Matt Lewis matt.lewis@trin­i­tymir­

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 at­per­ 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

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