The nerves that had affected Danielle Brown in the formative stages of her attempt to retain her Paralympic title were nowhere to be seen yesterday as she made it back-to-back gold medals, beating compatriot Mel Clarke in a closely fought final that went down to the final arrow.
Clarke required a maximum 10 with her last shot at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich after fighting back to take the fourth set and force a decider. Her aim failed her at the crucial moment as she scored a seven, her worst arrow of the final.
Brown confessed to struggling mentally in her quarter-final on Sunday, as the pressure of performing in front of a home crowd as gold medal favourite inhibited her. Yesterday, once again shooting from beneath a pink sunhat, she was back to the form that has earned her a stellar career in the sport, both disabled and able-bodied. Two years ago she became the first disabled athlete to compete for England at the Commonwealth Games and won team gold. A decorated CV also includes five world titles and world records, all this by the age of 24 – not mention that last year she also completed a law degree.
"I've been really feeling [the pressure] so to actually come here and manage to keep my head in the right place, I'm chuffed to bits about that," said Brown.
"I didn't think it would have affected me the way it has. Defending the title has been crazy because you're under so much pressure, especially the last couple of weeks."
Brown, who has chronic pain in her legs, shoots standing up leaning on a support, while Clarke competes from a wheelchair, its wheels decorated with a Union flag. For Clarke silver marks an improvement on Beijing, where she lost in the semi-finals before winning the bronze medal match, and another significant milestone in a career doctors had told her was over nine years ago.
In 2003 Clarke had become the first disabled European archer to compete internationally in an able-bodied competition but during the tournament contracted Lyme disease. It led to the loss of sight in one eye – her medics advised her to forget about archery. Clarke ignored them, determined to get back into a sport she had first tried as a Girl Guide 15 years ago. She developed a new and distinctive style of shooting, tilting her head back to ensure her seeing eye was put to best use in helping her aim at the target. It worked and two years after her illness she was part of the British team that won the World Championships.
"It's unreal," said Clarke, who turned 30 last week. "To get through to the final was brilliant. To shoot against another Brit in the final was incredible and I shot really well. I'm really proud."
In the semi-final Clarke had earned one of the best wins of her career by destroying the highly rated Russian Stepanida Artakhinova 6-0. Brown demonstrated that her rocky start was behind her with a 6-2 semi-final win over another Russian, Marina Lyzhnikova.