Australia’s 2012 Paralympic Team hailed as ‘greatest ever’
Australia’s Paralympians have been hailed not just as the ‘inspirations of a nation’ but as the greatest Aussie Paralympic Team ever, after a very competitive display at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
AUSTRALIA’S London Paralympic team has been hailed as the nation’s greatest despite the medal table suggesting otherwise.
Australia finished with 32 gold medals in London, placing them in fifth position, just one silver medal behind the Ukraine and only two gold medals behind Great Britain in third position.
Australia’s total appears modest compared to hauls from the Sydney (63) and Atlanta (42) editions.
However Australian team boss Jason Hellwig argued the increased competition and money involved in Paralympic sport these days meant the 2012 team had to be rated the No.1.
“Sydney, you have to understand, it was a different time and a lot of evolution has happened since then,” he said.
“Sydney will always be special because of what it did and the quantum of medals.
“In terms of the quality of athlete and professionalism and focus, this is the best Paralympic team we have ever put together.
“I hope that sets a standard for other teams. This is our standard.”
The swimming team has been the nation’s engine room, doubling its gold medal output from Beijing.
It provided 18 gold medals with the Games leading gold medallist Jacqueline Freney (eight) and Matthew Cowdrey (five) ruling the pool.
With Freney and Cowdrey good chances of going on to the 2016 Games, Hellwig believed the team was in good shape.
“It is a very young team, there is a nice potential for Rio and beyond,” he said.
He said there had been a spike in those interested in trying out Paralympic sport and the Australian Paralympic Committee had to take advantage of the goodwill the team has fostered.
“I think we are in a good position to increase the (financial) support,” he said.
“But we have to go and earn that.”
Hellwig was confident the Games had made more Australians aware of the country’s leading Paralympians.
“We did a survey in 2008 and I think less than 15 per cent of people we surveyed could name a Paralympian other than Louise Sauvage,” he said.
“We will do that again soon and half a dozen names will hopefully roll off the tongue.”
The nation’s fifth placing was achieved in no small part by Australia’s swimmers with Jacqueline Freney (eight gold medals) the leading individual medallist of the Games.
However it did not all go to plan on the final day.
British wheelchair racing star David Weir ruined Kurt Fearnley’s quest for a third straight T54 marathon title by out sprinting the field down The Mall.
Fearnley did his best to chase down Weir but ended up fading to third.
After collecting his bronze medal, Fearnley vowed to roll on to the 2016 Rio Paralympics despite his leanest return from four Games in London.
“I don’t know whether to smile or burst into tears,” he said.
“Just exhausted. I don’t know whether I feel great or I am about to throw up.”
However the veteran was proud of the entire team’s achievements.
“This team has been sensational,” he said.
“We are a hard working team and I believe the we are the toughest and one of the best exports out of our country.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s Patrick Anderson derailed the title defence of Australia’s men’s wheelchair basketball team.
The outstanding Anderson finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in his team’s 64-58 win in the gold medal final.
Australia picked up two gold medals on Saturday with T38 sprinter Evan O’Hanlon completing the 100m-200m double with a world record time in the longer event.
Prue Watt maintained Australia’s run in the pool, claiming her maiden Paralympic title in the SB13 100m breaststroke a decade after first making the national team.
However the good news green and gold story of the weekend came through Australia’s wheelchair rugby team, the Steelers, who finished the Games with glory, after taking gold in the final against Canada.
The Ryley Batt-inspired Steelers crushed Canada 66-51 on Sunday to finally win gold after silvers in Sydney and Beijing.
“We have been playing the game since 1995 and it is the first time we’ve reached the pinnacle,” said national team coach Brad Dubberley.
“To have the team that we have and to come in and win single quarter of our game … is just a huge result for the whole team.”
Dubberley hoped the victory would lift interest levels back home.
“We are getting some great attention back home and hopefully it can just go through the roof and put our Paralympic sport on the map,” he said. - AAP