Pearson targets Rio after settling for bronze

Swindon Advertiser: Rider Lee Pearson Rider Lee Pearson

Lee Pearson tonight vowed that he will hit the road to Rio in 2016 after ending his London Paralympics campaign one gold medal short of joining an exclusive British sporting club.

The 38-year-old from Staffordshire was beaten into third place by Grade Ib freestyle winner Austrian Pepo Puch, while Finland's Katja Karjalainen took silver with a score of 74.250%, just 0.05% above Pearson.

Pearson, though, appeared to be marked incredibly harshly by British judge Sarah Rodger, who awarded him only 65.250% for his James Bond-themed musical routine and gave him 11th place from 15 starters.

Rodger's mark compared with that of her fellow judge, Argentine Lilian Iannone, who gave Pearson 78.250%. The marks of all five judges are averaged out to give the final score.

"I am aware of that judge (Rodger), and I don't know what the politically correct answer would be other than to say it has happened before with that judge and it will probably happen again," Pearson said.

"She obviously saw whatever she saw, and if that makes her happy then I am happy for her."

Pearson had a 100% record across three successive Paralympics before London, winning nine gold medals, but his score of 74.200% aboard Gentleman was not enough, and he had to settle for bronze two days after collecting an individual championship silver.

There was more British gold on the dressage event's penultimate day, though, when 22-year-old Natasha Baker captured her second Paralympic title in 48 hours by dominating Grade II freestyle.

Pearson picked up his 10th career gold in yesterday's team competition, but any chance of joining former wheelchair athlete Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and swimmer David Roberts on 11 golds will now have to wait another four years.

"I was over the moon with the test," Pearson added.

"Gentleman has struggled this week, just physically really. It is very unusual for him to compete every other day over a six-day period.

"He couldn't have offered any more in the arena, and to be honest I don't think I could have ridden any better.

"I will find a new horse for Rio because Gentleman has probably had his day now. He really tried his hardest and he has been a great servant, but he won't be going on to Rio."

Pearson again dismissed the magic figure of 12 Paralympic golds as having any relevance to him, claiming: "I was aware of the novelty factor (number of golds) coming into these Games.

"I know it's interesting, but it is not why I do it.

"But I am going to go out and kick butt in the future. We have the Europeans, worlds and then Paralympics (2016), and I am going out to win."

Puch, a 46-year-old who competed as a non-disabled eventer at the Athens Olympics eight years ago before being paralysed in a riding accident, was hit by personal tragedy in the last few days.

He wore a black armband in memory of his mother-in-law, who died late last week.

"On Friday after I won an an individual bronze medal I got a phone call to say my mother-in-law had died," said Puch, who scored 79.150%.

"I was on such a high with the bronze, but emotionally, I fell away deeply after that, and I had a couple of nights to think hard about today.

"My horse offered me so much out there. She is a prima ballerina. She loves the people, the atmosphere and cheering.

"This is absolutely amazing. I have competed many times in England, and English people are such sporty people and you really feel it here."

Pearson, meanwhile, hailed Baker as "a superstar" after she triumphed with a Paralympic record score today of 82.800%.

Baker and Cabral faced tough competition in the 20-rider class, including former Paralympic gold medal winner Lauren Barwick and the twin German threat posed by Britta Napel (Aquilina 3) and Angelika Trabert (Ariva-Avanti).

But whereas the individual championship medallists - today's same trio in the same order - had been separated by less than 1%, Baker put daylight between her rivals this time.

Napel finished second on 77.400% and Trabert third on 76.150%, while Eilish Byrne took a superb fourth spot aboard Youri a day after Ireland won team bronze and Grade Ia individual silver.

Baker said: "This just feels amazing.

"I never imagined that at my first Games in London I would go home with two gold medals. It's incredible. I don't know what to say to be honest, and that doesn't happen a lot!

"Cabral is just a star. I couldn't have asked for any more from him. Today's test was the best of all three we have done here.

"Watching Lee Pearson at the Sydney Games 12 years ago was a massive inspiration for me, seeing the relationship he had with his horse. I was only 10 years old then, but I was so inspired by him."

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