Archer Simon Fairweather yesterday turned an amphitheatre at Homebush Bay into a euphoric arena of nationalism as he claimed a historic Olympic gold medal.
The 30-year-old South Australian won four sudden-death matches with a ruthless display of marksmanship to win Australia’s first Olympic medal in archery.
Fairweather immediately raised his arms in triumph after nailing an eight to end the gold medal decider. He had been the world champion in 1991 but that does not rate alongside the jubilation of winning an Olympic gold medal in your own country.
As the crowd rose to applaud Fairweather, his opponent, American Victor Wunderle, had still to fire his final shot, but the match was already won.
Wunderle was sitting on 98, Fairweather’s 18 arrows totalled 113. There is no 15 ring on an archery target. It was over.
As the crowd went berserk, Fairweather turned to find Australia’s national archery coach, Ki-Sik Lee, and they embraced. The Korean master, who rebuilt Fairweather as an archer, and told him to believe in himself, sent Fairweather on a lap of honour.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless,” Fairweather said shortly after a moving medal ceremony at which the national anthem was sung with passion by a crowd of 4500.
Fairweather thanked Lee in the press conference. He thanked his family, parents Rob and Helen, along with sister Kate, who is also an Australian Olympic archer. He thanked his partner, Tara. They had provided the support and financed the archer on a 12-year odyssey taking part in international competitions.
They all stood proud in the arena of emotion yesterday. Fairweather said everyone kept telling him it was his day but he could not dare think about what lay ahead. “I tried not thinking too hard about it, just tried to stick to the process,” Fairweather said.
“When I won the world championship in 1991 that was the sort of mindset I was in then.”
Mindset? The former Young Australian of the Year was in the zone. The bullseye was as big as a football. The closest anyone got to him through a series of six elimination matches spread over two days was two points. That was in yesterday’s semifinal victory.
“When you are shooting well enough to win a big competition you are having a day where you are focused,” Fairweather said.
“Today was a day like that; they don’t come very often,” he added.
He did not even know who he would be up against in the final match. After each match he returned to the practice field and continued to shoot arrows. He was on auto pilot.
Waiting in the tunnel for the gold medal decider, Fairweather sensed it was time. Making the top eight was the goal before the Games commenced, but this was now serious. He had gone beyond the point of return.
“I was sitting in there thinking if I back off, change my attitude at the last moment and end up not winning just because of being complacent, or changing my focus, I’d probably kick myself,” he said.
“I tried to focus, be aggressive and take it.”
Take it he did. The kid who didn’t like school or team sports when he was growing up was minutes away from joining a group reserved for Olympic gold medallists.
As for the future, Fairweather is uncertain. He has for the past 16 years devoted his life to a sport that is mentally and physically draining. “I’ve got a degree in jewellery design and that’s probably what I’ll look at doing in the future,” Fairweather said.
“I’ve been thinking about it … people have always been saying that you should retire at the top this might be a good time.”