Best Olympic Archers of All-Time: #11 Simon Fairweather

Header photo courtesy Yoshi Komatsu.

Each week in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, we’ll be revealing another athlete on our list of the top 15 Olympic archers of all time. This week, it’s…

#11: Simon Fairweather

NOC: Australia 

Born: 9 October 1969, Adelaide, Australia 

Olympic caps: 5 (Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004)

The Medals

Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

The quote

“I have been asked so many times how I was able to shoot arrow after arrow during the gold medal match and not be aware of the score. The answer is simple. Each shot is its own shot, you can’t focus on the previous shot, either to beat yourself up for a poor shot or predict your future score if you kept it going. The conditions are different, the arrow is different. The challenge is to focus on the process, stay in the here and now, and make each shot its own master.” – Simon Fairweather

The Reason

Simon Fairweather ‘stopped the nation’ with a gold medal on home soil at Sydney 2000 – at his fourth Olympics. His was a long journey.

He started archery at age 14.

“I went to school in a little town in the Adelaide Hills called Strathalbyn. Sport was a big part of school life, but the choice of sports was very limited. Mostly it was team sports such as football and cricket. I leapt at the chance for something like archery,” he said.

“I met a woman who worked in an archery store through one of the other club members, and she convinced me to join Adelaide Archery Club. She very sadly died of cancer only about 18 months later, but she started me on my path.”

“She always encouraged me to look at pictures of current champions (such as Darrell Pace and Rick McKinney) and try to learn what it was that they did that made them successful – there was no YouTube back then. You had to think!”

Fairweather dug in for the long haul, training full-time from when he left high school until he attended university seven years later.

“I virtually did nothing else during that time.” 

He competed at his first Olympics in 1988 in Seoul aged 19, finishing 16th. Three years later, in 1991, he took his first major title, winning the individual World Archery Championships in Kraków and leading the Australian men’s team to bronze.

Expectations were high in 1992, but Fairweather didn’t make an impression in Barcelona. He came closer four years later in Atlanta, with a fourth place in the team event. 

Finally, the home fixture beckoned. The Australian archery team prepared for the Sydney games under Kisik Lee, the first South Korean coach to work abroad. Fairweather had spent two and a half years training full-time, and his individual day of destiny came on 20 August 2000. 

“I don’t remember doing anything wrong. I was very disciplined in following my routine. I barely shot a bad arrow in all my matches. It was my ‘masterpiece’ of correct shooting for my whole life, I think,” Fairweather said.

“Finals are like a staring competition. That day I was the one who didn’t blink. It was a matter of staying with the routine and excluding thoughts of other things. It’s not the time for savouring the experience and looking at the spectacle that’s unfolding around you.”

“It’s a bit of a pity really as you miss some of that. But you must stay focused.”

After a narrow semifinal win over Wietse van Alten of the Netherlands, Fairweather’s final was against Vic Wunderle of the USA.

“Did I say anything to myself? I just told myself to keep my mind on my job, my routine, for another 15 minutes,” Simon recalled. “After that would be time for thinking about what it all means!”

In front of a roaring home crowd, in the end, he won easily: 113-106. It was Australia’s first Olympic medal in the sport. 

“I don’t remember [what happened afterwards] so well. There were a lot of media requests. It took hours to actually get back to see my family. And after the games itself there were the various public functions to attend,” said Fairweather.

“I didn’t enjoy that so much. But in this case I didn’t really care what happened. I was just feeling the relief of finally reaching my goal.”

Fairweather retired after Sydney, but made a comeback to compete in a final Olympics in Athens. He briefly became the Australian national team coach in 2009, but retired just two years later, returning to his degree subject – jewellery design.

“I approach it with the same mentality. If you want to do a good job you must practice, and aim high. And not allow a poor job. And try to learn from people who are better than you.”

He quit shooting completely for a while, but recently had second thoughts: “I had given [my bow] away. But my girlfriend shoots and so she has encouraged me to shoot with her. We are looking at the world field this year – we’ll see what happens. I just want to enjoy life [now].” 

“I have spent a long time following that path of perfection and it’s quite a journey, but not always much fun. Also there were some difficult years lately, and so I want some fun and light hearted times.”

Simon’s advice for those looking to achieve something in the sport revolves around commitment.

“No one can do your training for you. And you can’t hand over responsibility to someone else. I really can’t abide hearing archers saying that their coach works them so hard – poor them!. If they don’t want to do that training themselves anyway, then they should stop pretending that they are contenders for success. A coach is just helping - not responsible for the result,” he said.

“So, enjoy it. But remember your results are a reflection of what you put into it. There is nowhere to hide with archery. Your success is up to you.”