Hunter returns triumphant from China

Kathryn Cross They came, they rode and they conquered and now the British para-equestrian dressage team is home from Hong Kong with a record number of medals from the Paralympics.

Kathryn Cross

They came, they rode and they conquered and now the British para-equestrian dressage team is home from Hong Kong with a record number of medals from the Paralympics.

But no-one was more proud of their achievements than Fakenham racecourse manager David Hunter who was with them every step of the way as the team's performance manager.

Back at home this morning a weary Mr Hunter told the EDP the team outstripped all expectations by returning with five golds and five silver medals.

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“We have done really well considering there are 11 golds to be had and we got five of them from seven riders, and we didn't have a rider in one of the grades,” he said. “It is a record for the equestrian team and it sets our targets for London 2012.

“I admit I had high expectations although I never let on at the time. I really wanted us to get the team medal which we did in some style. The conditions were challenging in Hong Kong because it was very hot and humid all the time but once we and the horses got acclimatised you could live with it.

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“All the horses took to it very well and a lot is due to the support team of top class professionals, vets, osteopaths, grooms and I can't thank them enough. They made sure everyone had a chance to compete.”

Mr Hunter, whose role involves co-ordinating all the training, coaching and logistics required to get the riders, horses and support staff to competitions, flew home from Beijing with the riders Ricky Balshaw, Sophie Christiansen, Felicity Coulthard, Debbie Criddle, Anne Dunham, Simon Laurens and Lee Pearson as well as three carers yesterday following three days of celebration in the Chinese capital.

“We flew to Beijing on Monday, seeing other sports and meeting other athletes and having the opportunity to fully integrate in the Games,” he said.

“We did feel a bit out of it in Hong Kong but we were very well looked after and it had that Olympic feel because the whole atmosphere was great with 4000 to 5000 people watching at most of the competitions.

“Prince Edward, who is patron of the British Paralympic Association, came down for two days and Phil Craven, the president of the international paralympic committee was there so we were well received and looked after and not forgotten.”

After their competition had finished the team watched athletes in the Birds Nest stadium, swimmers in the water cube and took in some wheelchair rugby as well as seeing the sights including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City before joining in the closing ceremony.

Then the party really started with the whole GB team enjoying a few celebratory drinks along with sports minister Tessa Jowell and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Now back on British soil the team is looking to extend its celebrations with a parade on Sunday at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire and lunch with the Worshipful Company of Saddlers and then hope to have a parade through London.

Mr Hunter said that the focus was still set on 2012 and meetings were being scheduled to plan their campaign for four years' time. He said: “Our venue will be Greenwich Park which is a fantastic location right in the middle of London and I think we will do very well as our riders have been brilliant.

“But we also have to find the right horses to do the job. We have a lot of help in the lottery funding through UK Sport which also helps riders with finances to devote more time to it and allows them to be more prepared and professional. Not all nations have that chance so we are very lucky.”

He also paid tribute to new team coach Michel Assouline who trained the horses and riders and said he was happy everyone came home fit and uninjured - except for himself.

“The only casualty was me with a ruptured calf muscle. I was giving a German rider a piggy back after a certain amount of revelry and it went and I was in agony!”

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