Yesterday, 29 August 2011, marked the one-year countdown to next year’s Paralympic Games. A record number of 4,200 athletes from 150 countries are set to convene in London (GBR) between 29 August and 9 September 2012 and compete in 503 events in 21 sports.
For the XIV Paralympic Games and the fifth appearance of Para-Dressage on the programme – equestrian sport made its Paralympic debut at the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996 – there could not be a more fitting host nation. Great Britain has been a Para-Dressage power house when it comes to Paralympic, World and European events, taking team gold at every turn and pushing the level and quality of the sport to greater heights.
“We count ourselves as one of the luckiest International Federations in the family and feel our sport is coming home with the 2012 Paralympic Games, as Great Britain has such a strong tradition of equestrianism and para-equestrianism,” FEI President HRH Princess Haya commented. “The location of the equestrian events in Greenwich Park means we are at the heart of the Games and we are very proud to be given centre stage. We are really looking forward to the event and will be counting the days to what will be glorious Games.”
Sixty-eight competitors from 16 nations had made the trip to Atlanta, GA (USA) to compete on borrowed horses in the first Paralympic competition in 1996. In 2008 the number of competitors had increased to 78 from and the number of nations had nearly doubled; the horses, no longer borrowed, flew in from all corners of the globe.
Hong Kong, where the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events were held, proved to be an exceptional venue. Over 30,000 spectators came to cheer on the Paralympic athletes and the horses were stabled at the state-of-the art air-conditioned facilities provided by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. New countries emerged to claim medal honours such as Singapore’s Laurentia Tan with Asia’s first Paralympic equestrian podium positions - two individual bronze medals – and Marco Alves picking up Brazil’s first Paralympic equestrian medal with bronze in Grade Ib.
Great Britain as a team have stood on the top step of the podium at each and every edition to date, and British Para-Equestrian icon Lee Pearson has won the three maximum gold medals available to him at every edition he has participated in – Sydney, Athens, and Hong Kong. The British team have shown to be extremely resourceful with a lot of new talent emerging every year and will be sending their best assets to the events in London 2012 to compete in front of a loyal, informed and enthusiastic home crowd. But there will be a lot of pressure from experienced and emerging Para-Equestrian nations, so it’s bound to be another milestone event for the sport and for the FEI.