Australia has competed at the Summer Paralympic Games since the inaugural competition in 1960. We have also competed at the Winter Paralympic Games since 1980 (there was one Australian at the first Winter Games in 1976, but in an unofficial capacity).
The first Paralympic Games built on precursors such as the Stoke Mandeville Games, set up specifically for World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries. But since then the Paralympics has expanded to allow for a much wider range of competition, with 10 eligible impairment types. Athletes are classified into a particular sport class to ensure fair and equal competition. This explains why you might see different classes attached to different events.
Across all these events, Australia has been one of the most successful nations at the Paralympics to date, and has sent some remarkable athletes to compete. Some of them are already household names, and many others definitely should be. We take a look at 10 women who have been pioneers or first in their field at the Paralympics.
1. Daphne Ceeney
Ceeney was the only woman in the Australian team at the first Summer Paralympic Games in 1960. She took part in an impressive range of events –swimming, archery, javelin and shotput. She medalled in all of them. This makes her not only our first woman to compete at the Paralympics, but also our first medallist.
2. Tracy Barrell
Barrell was the first indigenous Australian woman to compete at the Paralympics. She was a highly successful swimmer, winning 2 gold medals for 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly at Barcelona in 1992. In doing so, she also smashed the world and Paralympic records.
3. Louise Sauvage
Louise Sauvage is one of Australia’s best known Paralympians. She is also one of the most decorated. She has won 13 Paralympic medals for wheelchair racing – 9 of them gold. She raced over distances from 100m to 5000m. Savauge was the first Australian Paralympian of the Year when the tradition was begun in 1994, and she was also the first woman inducted into the Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame.
4. Priya Cooper
Cooper swam at the Paralympics in 1992 and 1996, when she was also co-captain of the team. She was the first woman to win 5 gold medals at one Games when she took home first place in five events at Atlanta in 1996 including freestyle, backstroke and the individual medley. During the same Games she also won 1 silver and 1 bronze, and set three world and five Paralympic records.
5. Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Kosmala
Kosmala has had a remarkable career as a shooter. She has competed at an incredible 11 Paralympics between 1972 and 2012 and has won 9 gold medals. She will be coming out of retirement to compete again at Rio this year, making her the first woman to compete in 12 Paralympic Games. She was also our first flagbearer at an opening ceremony, in 1996 in Atlanta.
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6. Emily Jansen
Australia sent its first team to the Winter Paralympics in 1980 but it took until 2006 in Turin for us to send our first female winter Paralympian, Emily Jansen. Jansen was an alpine skier who took part in the Giant Slalom Standing and paved the way for more Australian women to take part in the Winter Games.
7. Jess Gallagher
Gallagher makes this list for being the first woman to compete at both a summer and winter Paralympic Games. Gallagher first took part in the winter games in 2010 in skiing, and went on to compete in athletics in the summer of 2012. Gallagher also holds the honour of being the first Australian woman to win a medal at the winter games for the Women’s Slalom Visually Impaired in Vancouver.
8. Jacqueline Freney
Swimmer Jacqueline Freney has competed at two Paralympic Games so far – Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. She holds the remarkable honour of being the most decorated athlete in a Games after she won an incredible 8 gold medals at the 2012 Games. She will be taking part again in Rio in 2016 and no doubt will be an athlete to watch as she looks to continue her form over a range of events.
9. Kate McLoughlin
McLoughlin will be Australia’s first woman Chef de Mission to a Paralympic Games as she heads to Rio in 2016. McLoughlin was deputy Chef de Mission in 2012 and General Manager of Paralympic Performance on the Australian Paralympic Committee from 2013. She has a wealth of experience and has said that the role is a “huge honour but also huge responsibility”.
10. Melissa Tapper
Tapper competes in table tennis and competed at the 2012 Paralympics. In 2016 she will become the first Paralympian (male or female) to qualify for Olympics as she has qualified to take part in both Games at Rio. Tapper has said she is aiming for gold at the Paralympics, but we have no doubt she is an athlete to watch across both Games.