Best of 2016: The stories of the year
Perhaps not the largest scores, nor the most obvious of triumphs – but the 2016 season produced stories that caught peoples’ imaginations – not least the Brazilian people, when an unlikely heroine arose during the Paralympic Games in the Sambodromo.
1. Nemati steals hearts
Just weeks after making her Olympic debut, Zahra Nemati won a second consecutive recurve women’s gold medal at the Paralympic Games, adding Paralympic gold in Rio to the historic gold she secured in London with a dramatic, 6-4, win over World Archery Para Champion Wu Chunyan in the Sambodromo.
She was one of just two athletes competing in both Games – but the only one to go home with gold.
Nemati shot a perfect 30 in the fifth set of the quarterfinals to see off Elisabetta Mijno – then delivered another 30 when she needed it to level the match in the fourth set of the final against Wu.
“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’s amazing story, from taekwondo champion to double archery gold medallist, spread much further around the world in 2016, on top of being chosen to carry the flag for Iran in the Olympic opening ceremony. The Brazilian crowd chanted her name whenever she appeared at the Paralympic competition.
Her unwavering message was never to be defined by injury: “My goal is to do my best to tell everybody: it’s not over, they can still fight with the situation and do great things. Don’t let your disability defeat you. Sport is the best means to defeat disability.”
2. David wins wife
After being edged out by Britain’s John Walker for the men’s W1 title, the 2015 World Archery Para Champion grabbed the spotlight when, in front of media and 100s of fans, he grabbed a microphone and proposed to his girlfriend Lida Fikarova – and she said yes.
David Drahoninsky is a man with an eye for publicity, and the story became one of the the most popular of the Paralympic Games.
"I am lucky at least in Rio I could give a surprise for my girlfriend. But people know that women don’t like surprises. I have five days of life before I return to the Czech Republic, after that she may kill me,” he said afterwards.
The next day he had recovered enough composure to take a bronze in the mixed team event.
3. Icarus-like Games
The 2011 and 2015 World Archery Champion had dominated the Korean selection tournament – widely considered the toughest recurve competition in the world.
After breaking the ranking round world record by a single point to open the Games and anchoring the men’s team to the Olympic title, the hot favourite for double gold crashed out in the second round of the individual event to Indonesia’s Ega Agatha Riau, leaving himself a mixed Olympic legacy.
“I prepared a lot, and it’s all gone now,” Kim Woojin said afterwards.
Will he have the stomach for another Olympic cycle? We shall see.
Shaun Anderson: The first ever Paralympic archer from South Africa fought back from a terrible technical malfunction in the sixth end of his ranking round to perform on the Sambodromo stage. An adrenaline junkie, his incredible passion for competition shone bright throughout the Games.
“I go into this little bubble and I feel like I’m in water, and it’s just unbelievable. I just sit there. You don’t hear the music, you don’t hear the people around and that just takes over,” he said.
Simon Fairweather returning to competition: The Sydney 2000 Olympic champion returned to the World Field Championships in Dublin with grace and style.
Grand opening: In December, the IOC President and World Archery President opened the World Archery Excellence Centre. Yeah, we think it’s pretty special.
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