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South Korea win gold, but Fairhill memories linger long

Neroli Fairhill - Archery

11/08/1984

New Zealander Neroli Fairhall embodied more than anyone Pierre de Coubertin’s famed adage that winning wasn’t necessarily what the Olympic ideal was about.

Fairhill was a promising young athlete when she was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident at the age of 22. She was paralysed from the waist down.

Like so many that have disability thrust upon them, Fairhall was determined not to let it affect the commitment she applied to her sporting career.

Six years after an accident that would have had many doubting they had any future in sport, Fairhill competed in the 1972 Paralympics in Heidelberg in track and field.

Prior to the 1980 Games in Arnhem she had decided to focus her attention on archery. She won the gold medal in the Netherlands and then achieved such a high standard that she was able to start competing against able-bodied athletes.

Perhaps her crowning achievement came at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane when she took gold.

Asked if her static, wheelchair position gave her an advantage over her rivals, she calmly replied: ‘I don't know. I've never shot standing up.’

The history books will show that Fairhill finished a disappointing 35th at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, but they will also detail that she was the first wheelchair-bound athlete to compete against the able-bodied.

The tournament was won by Seo Hyang-soon, the first South Korean gold medallist in the event which would be dominated by the Asian country, which won all but one of the seven golds on offer since.

Although she didn’t figure in the higher echelons of Olympic competition, Fairhill was a pioneer for the Paralympic movement, bowing out of international competition after the 2000 Games in Sydney.

She died at the age of 61 in 2006 following complications related to her illness.

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