"If there’s something I can say to those who watched the Paralympics, to the kids, it is to believe in sport. It transforms people and brings out the best feeling within you.”
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games were the most followed Paralympics in history. From stories of perseverance and sacrifice to true sporting emotion, the archery competition in the Sambodromo brought out the best of the Paralympic spirit.
1. British W1 Women
In a historic week, building up to a golden final 24 hours, the Great Britain Para archery team delivered performance after performance taking home three golds, two silvers and a bronze to top the Paralympic medal table. It was a triumph for coaches and athletes, and payback for many years of work and investment at the home base in Lilleshall.
The crowning glory came on the last day of competition, as the women’s W1 team swept the podium in glorious sunshine in a packed Sambodromo.
It was the first British one-two-three since the Paralympics in Atlanta 1996, and was all the more remarkable for the gold going to Jessica Stretton, just 16 years old and the youngest archer in the competition in her first Paralympics. Jo Frith took silver, and the bronze went to Vicky Jenkins – who had only just returned from a Rio hospital where she had been taken after falling ill.
It is only the second time in history that an archery podium has been swept at the Paralympic Games. The first was in the recurve men’s standing competition at London 2012, when all three medals were won by Russia.
2. Zahra Nemati
After shooting in the Olympics in Rio, Nemati performed the extraordinary feat of defending a recurve title from London 2012 with a dramatic, 6-4, win over World Archery Para Champion Wu Chunyan in the Sambodromo.
“There was just a feeling that I had that I knew I was going to win today,” Nemati said. “That’s why I was very calm and relaxed. I just knew I could do it.”
Nemati also took a silver in the recurve mixed team with Ebrahim Ranjbarkivaj, bringing Iran’s total tally of archery medals to four.
Her seemingly endless popularity with the Rio crowd, who were chanting her name throughout, seemed to help.
“The energy from the people around me, the spectators, the people who wanted me to win – all this energy affected me and that was what helped me. I’m very happy, I’m so happy,” she said.
3. Zhou Jiamin
Great Britain were very closely followed in the medal standings by China, who also had a successful Paralympics, taking home three golds and two silvers. The standout star was compounder Zhou Jiamin, breaking the world record for a 15 arrow match – and taking gold in the the compound women’s open and the compound mixed team open competition, the latter with her teammate Ai Xinliang.
John Walker: Took two golds in his debut Paralympics, just four years after being inspired to take up archery after watching Matt Stutzman at London 2012 – and beating 2015 World Archery Para Champion David Drahoninsky to do it. In the individual men’s W1 final, tied on 12 arrows each, the British athlete unleashed his tightest group of the tournament – a perfect 30 – to take the last series, and the match, by two points.
“I just believed in myself, and all the training I’ve been doing. This medal means everything to me,” he said.
Andre Shelby: The USA Para team had a slightly mixed meeting at Rio 2016; some good performances did not translate into medals. In the end they only took one podium, but it was very special indeed: Andre Shelby’s gold in the compound men’s open at his debut Paralympics.
After top seeds including John Stubbs and Matt Stutzman unexpectedly fell, Shelby beat favourite Alberto Simonelli by a single point in a high-quality final. Many credit his military experience for his sporting success.
“He maintains his composure and intensity throughout the competition,” coach MJ Rogers said. “This allows his shooting to shine.”
Luciano Rezende: Came an agonising fourth in the recurve men’s open category, but the Brazilian archer brought the nation its best Paralympic result and the crowd both great sportsmanship and great entertainment.
“Having the entire crowd on my side at each of my individual matches helped me a lot.” he said afterwards. “I brought that crowd the closest I could to myself and to see that, to feel it, was great. If there’s something I can say to those who watched the Paralympics, to the kids, it is to believe in sport. It transforms people and brings out the best feeling within you.”