Natasha Baker – Gold Medal Profile

Labour Party

In her first ever Paralympics at the age of 22, Natasha Baker could not have asked for a better introduction to the equestrian events at this level.  She broke Paralympic records and took home Team GB’s first equestrian gold medal of the games.

Natasha has been inspired by watching now team-mate Lee Pearson and his horse at the Sydney games on television with her mother.  She contracted transverse myletis, an inflammation of the spine which affects nerve endings, when she was 14 months old leaving her with limited use of her legs. She started Riding For the Disabled classes as a therapy aged nine and was talent spotted aged 11.

She rides by using her seat and voice and she gave up using stirrups — upon which able- bodied riders are so reliant – after being unable to extricate her feet when unseated and being dragged a couple of times.

Going early in her class on her 11-year-old Polish-bred gelding Cabral, Natasha scored a Paralympic record mark of 76.857 per cent for the individual grade II championship test but she then had to watch on as two German riders came desperately close to that incredible score.

First Angelika Trabert, a rider with no legs but incredible balance, scored 76.000 per cent before the reigning Paralympic champion, Britta Napel, a rider who has had paralysis in her legs and torso since being poisoned by insecticide in 1998, came in determined not to let go without a fight. She scored marginally higher than her compatriot, 76.048 per cent, to take silver.

“It’s the most incredible feeling,” said Baker clasping her medal and wrapped in a Union Jack. “It’s my first games, it’s at home and to come back with a gold medal is amazing,” she said. “When I got on the podium and saw all the flags and people cheering it was just wow. It means everything. Since I was 10 I said I’d come to the Paralympics and win gold.”

Helena Lucas – Gold Medal Profile

Labour Party

Helena Lucas holds the impressive distinction of being the first Brit ever to take a gold in the sailing events at the Paralympics.

Helena suffers from a condition that affects both her hands.  Despite this, she initially focused on competing in the 470 class in non-disabled competition, attempting to qualify to compete for Great Britain at both the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Athens Games. After 2004 she switched to sailing in the 2.4mR class, a Paralympic event contested in a single-person keelboat.  In 2006 she stood in for Shirley Robertson as a member of the British crew in the Yngling event at a test event for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China; competing alongside Annie Lush and Lucy MacGregor, she won a silver medal.

It was a slightly strange way that Helena ended up winning her gold.  It was not quite the way the British sailing team had imagined winning its first ever Paralympic medals. A dearth of wind on the Dorset coast meant the team spent the final hours of the six-day regatta holed up in the GB rather than charging for the finishing line in Portland Harbour.

Not that Helena was too worried. She was leading the standings and so took gold in the single-person 2.4mR, a huge achievement in the trickiest boat and probably the most competitive of the three Paralympic classes. Helena, the only woman in the 2.4 fleet, went into the final day with a nine-point cushion after a brilliant regatta.

Helena was one of the last sailors to be picked for London 2012 and said there was a “huge sense of relief” that the years of hard work had paid off.

The medals are a vindication of the British sailing team’s all-encompassing approach. There was soul-searching after the Paralympic sailors returned from Beijing empty-handed. Since then the Paralympic sailors have lived and trained cheek by jowl with the Olympic squad. Working alongside competitors such as the four-times gold medallist Ben Ainslie has inspired the six Paralympic sailors – the same group that failed in Beijing – on to greater heights.

“All the Olympic guys have been pushing us all the way,” Helena said. “It’s been really close racing and great fun to be out there performing on home waters. It’s amazing for Paralympic sailing.” She said she had forgotten that the rest of the fleet were men. “I am so used to going up against the guys, I forget.”

Great British Women Olympians – Denise Lewis

Labour Party

It is now only 23 weeks until the opening of the London Olympics and the consequent Paralympics.

In the run up to the games I have decided to take a look at some of the British women who have achieved past successes and who are tipped for success in the summer. It is clear when the BBC think that “lads mags” such as Zoo and Nuts have serious coverage of sport that British sports reporting still fails to cover sport properly. One way for women to challenge this is to write more about sport.

Each weekend I will present a duo of sportswomen from the same sporting event. One from the past and one who has been chosen to represent Great Britain in London 2012.

Denise Lewis OBE – Heptathlon

In 2000 Denise Lewis brought home a gold medal for Great  Britain from the Sydney Games competing in the heptathlon. This success was achieved despite suffering from an injury to her Achilles tendon.

Denise began competing in the heptathlon in 1989. Eleven years later, at a meet in Talence, France, she broke the British heptathlon record with a score of 6831. This record has not yet been broken.

Denise’s athletic achievements were recognised in 2001 when she was presented with an OBE. In 2011 Denise was inducted into the UK athletics hall of fame.

The heptathlon is a series of events in which competitors compete against each other in 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin throw and 800m.

As well as her gold medal in Sydney, Denise also won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Games and gold medals at two consecutive Commonwealth Games in 1994 and 1998. She has also won numerous medals at international and European athletics meets.

Shortly after the birth of her first child in 2002, Denise entered a particularly turbulent period of her career.  Her links with controversial technical coach Dr Ekkart Arbeit, accused of doping atheletes in the 1970s, led to her receiving a barrage of hostile media coverage.

She retired from athletics in June 2005. Since then, Denise has gone on to have a second successful career as a BBC sports pundit and appeared on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2004.

Since 2009 Denise has been an International Inspiration Ambassador. Denise uses her great sporting legacy to inspire youngsters to take part in sport and physical activity around the world.

Denise was born in West Bromwich in 1972 and was brought up inWolverhampton. She has said that she was inspired to become an athlete whilst watching the 1980 Moscow Olympics on the TV as a child.