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History Makers: Peter Norfolk

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In 2004, Peter Norfolk – also known as ‘The Quadfather’ – etched his name in the history books, becoming the first person to win a Paralympic gold medal in the inaugural wheelchair tennis quad singles event in Athens.

When it comes to sporting achievements, trophies, titles and medals are often used to define the greatest of all-time – but there can only ever be one person in history who can claim they are their sport’s first ever champion, paving the way for future generations.

In 2004, Peter Norfolk – also known as ‘The Quadfather’ – etched his name in the history books, becoming the first person to win a Paralympic gold medal in the inaugural wheelchair tennis quad singles event in Athens.

This would be the first of five Paralympic medals that Norfolk won throughout his career – adding to a further 49 quad singles and 19 quad doubles titles, including a total of 22 singles titles at Grand Slam or Super Series level.

Norfolk’s historic career saw him become Britain’s most successful Paralympic wheelchair tennis player of all-time; leaving behind him a legacy that will last for many years to come.

In 1979 Norfolk was involved in a motorcycle accident, which left him with a spinal cord injury at T4/5 level. His wheelchair tennis journey began almost 10 years later after he saw a demonstration at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. He was inspired by both the physical and mental benefits the sport had to offer, decided to give it a try and became instantly hooked.

During the next decade he competed in the men’s wheelchair tennis Open Division. But as a growth on his spine continued to grow, Norfolk required further surgeries, which subsequently led him to take part in the quad division from 2000.

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Norfolk started strongly in the quad events – going on to win his first major title at the US Open USTA Championships Super Series tournament just one year after starting out. The British star had firmly put his name down as one of the toughest competitors on the tour and made his debut inside the top 10 rankings.

With the 2004 Athens Paralympics on the horizon, Norfolk’s form continued to build. He won the Wheelchair Tennis Masters doubles crown in 2003 and 2004, rising to World No.1 in the rankings – a position he held for almost 250 weeks in his career.

Eventually, the opportunity came for Norfolk to cement his place in history – the introduction of quad events at the Paralympics in 2004. Coming in as a hot favourite, the Brit didn’t drop a set on his way to the final and claimed the gold medal with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over America’s David Wagner.

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In a career-defining moment, Norfolk became the first British player to ever win a medal in wheelchair tennis at the Paralympic Games. He also went on to take silver in the quad doubles that year, partnering Mark Eccleston.

With two medals already to his name, Norfolk came into the 2008 Games in Beijing with great expectations on his shoulders – but the second seed never flustered. He dropped only six games in three matches en route to the final, where he faced Sweden’s Johan Andersson, who defeated the Brit’s arch rival, Wagner, in the semi-finals.

Norfolk beat Andersson 6-2, 6-2 in the final to successfully defend his gold medal, before winning bronze in the doubles with Jamie Burdekin. Four medals in two Paralympic Games was quite some achievement!

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In the years that followed Norfolk won four Australian quad singles titles, two US Open quad singles titles and in 2010 he claimed his third NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters crown, having become the first Brit to triumph at the year-end singles championship in 2006.

In 2009, Norfolk also led Great Britain to a third quad title in nine years at the ITF’s World Team Cup, doing so on him soil in Nottingham, where he amassed five British Open titles.

During this period, Norfolk was also made an OBE, having been included in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2009.

In 2012, Norfolk was given the honour of being the ParalympicsGB flagbearer at the opening ceremony for his home Games in London, in recognition of his incredible achievements in wheelchair tennis.

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The Brit teamed up with a young Andy Lapthorne as the pair went on to claim the silver medal in the quad doubles after narrowly losing a close final against American duo Wagner and Nicholas Taylor.

This would be the final chapter in Norfolk’s glittering career as he announced his retirement in January 2013.

One of the greatest Paralympians in British sporting history, Norfolk will forever be known for his unwavering competitiveness and commitment to his sport. He remains closely involved with the sport and these days is regularly found in the commentary box for wheelchair tennis matches at Wimbledon, while he is among Channel 4’s wheelchair tennis commentary team for Tokyo.