Sophie Christiansen became the London 2012’s first British triple gold medallist yesterday as Great Britain’s dressage riders ended their Paralympic Games in record-breaking fashion.
Christiansen posted her third successive score of more than 80% on Janeiro 6 to claim Grade Ia freestyle gold.
And it meant Britain ended six glorious days in Greenwich with a record 11 medals – five gold, five silver and one bronze – to eclipse their Beijing-best of four years ago.
As with the Olympic equestrian team last month, Britain’s Paralympians topped their medal table, and it represented a stunning effort by the five-strong group of Christiansen, double gold medallist Natasha Baker, Lee Pearson, Sophie Wells and Taunton’s Deb Criddle.
They also won a medal in all sections across five grades – individual and freestyle – in addition to collecting a fifth successive Paralympic team title, a sequence that started at Atlanta 16 years ago.
But 24-year-old Christiansen, who has cerebral palsy, played the starring role by dominating her rivals to such an extent that gold medal glory was never seriously in doubt once she had completed her freestyle test.
Her patriotic musical theme – which started and ended with Land of Hope and Glory, included Big Ben’s chimes and quotations from Shakespeare’s Richard II – provided a fitting conclusion to the dressage programme as she scored a mammoth 84.750%.
“I was always going to enjoy that, and that was key,” she said.
“Sometimes I get a bit carried away because I do love it so much, so I kind of played it a little safer today to stay relaxed and keep the horse’s rhythm going, and it paid off.
“I did everything I could going into the Games. I’ve had a great time.
“I knew I could potentially win three gold medals, but I wanted to keep that quiet and then let the results speak for themselves.”
Christiansen won a bronze medal as a 16-year-old in Athens eight years ago, then captured two golds and a silver in Beijing. She is also a reigning world and European champion.
And Criddle, who made her Paralympics debut in Sydney 12 years ago, added: “This has been the best Games I’ve ever done.
“I am so honoured to have been here – words cannot describe the feeling. We will never forget these Games.
“And to have medalled across all five grades with our five riders is fantastic. It’s such a good feeling.”
Wells today produced a personal best score of 81.150% on Pinocchio in the Grade IV freestyle.
It was not enough for the title, though, as Belgium’s Michele George and Rainman eclipsed them with her own personal best 82.100%.
And it was Criddle who delivered the record-equalling 10th medal, finishing second behind Germany’s double gold medallist Hannelore Brenner, who triumphed on Women of the World after scoring 81.700%.
Taunton-based Criddle, though, was 3% behind with LJT Akilles, and Denmark’s Annika Dalskov took bronze. It was 46-year-old Criddle’s second runner-up finish in two days, adding to her team gold.
Heather Frederiksen turned in an emphatic performance to retain her Paralympic S8 100m Backstroke title.
The world record holder had qualified fastest for the final by more than four seconds as she looked to add to her S8 400m Freestyle silver from earlier in the Games.
Russia’s Olesya Vladykina led the race out but Frederiksen began to assert her dominance at the half-way stage, turning first in an S8 50m Backstroke world record 37.05 seconds.
And the Briton powered clear down the back 50m, winning by a body length as she touched in one minute 17.00 seconds from USA’s Jessica Long (1:18.67) and Vladykina (1:20.20).
Corsham’s Stephanie Millward won her third medal of the Games with a European record in the S9 400m Freestyle.
The world silver medallist had qualified second fastest for the final and saw off the challenge of Australia’s Ellie Cole (4:42.87) to take silver behind South Africa’s defending champion Natalie du Toit (4:30.18).
Millward eventually knocked more than two seconds off her old European marker with a time of 4:40.01 to add to her S9 100m Backstroke silver and 34pt 4x100m Freestyle Relay bronze from earlier in the Games.
“I tried to use Natalie as my pacer and in the end, that was an absolutely fantastic result,” said Swansea-based Millward.
“I knew I had a really good back end and on that last 50m I was trying not to get too excited but I thought, she’s not going to catch me on this.
“Natalie came up to me after the race and said ‘Well done Stephanie’.”
Matthew Walker won his 12th Paralympic medal, his first of London 2012, with bronze in the S7 50m Freestyle.
The world and European champion improved on his heat swim to clock 28.47 seconds in the final and finish behind USA’s Lantz Lamback (27.84) and China’s Pan Shiyun (28.09).
The 34 year old has now won individual medals at four consecutive Paralympic Games and admitted he couldn’t have given any more in pursuit of a fourth Paralympic gold.
“The young guns are fast and I’m getting on a bit now but I did my best and it’s another medal to add to the 11 I’ve already got,” said Walker.
“I wanted to get a gold but I gave it everything and couldn’t have done any more.
“Everybody knows that it’s been tough for me this season but it’s splash and dash and I didn’t have enough in me in those last five metres. I was kicking so hard and giving it absolutely everything.
“I swam my heart out and that’s all I could have done. It’s a medal and at these Games the competition is really, really tough.”
Jonathan Fox and 15-year old Josef Craig both set their second personal bests of the day as they finished sixth and seventh respectively in the same final.
S7 100m Backstroke champion Fox touched in 28.87 while Craig, competing at his first Paralympics, came home in 29.39.
Ellie Simmonds added an unexpected S6 50m Freestyle bronze to her burgeoning London 2012 medal tally. She has won two golds already.