World News – UA – 20 years later, Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games athletes look back at the Games and how they transformed their lives


In 2000 Australia won the Paralympic Summer Games, winning 63 gold medals at home in Sydney

Twenty years later, these winners spoke to ABC as they recalled the event they believed led to a major shift in perceptions of disability in Australia

Twenty years ago, Paralympian Louise Sauvage was one of the biggest stars of the Sydney 2000 Games

The wheelchair racer won two gold and one silver to help Australia finish at the top of the competition’s medal table

The 47-year-old has become a coach, backing compatriot Madison de Rozario ahead of Tokyo in 2021 – and gold is firmly in their sights

« I think the biggest moment for me now and the biggest buzz is being part of someone else’s journey, helping them achieve their goals, » said Sauvage

Looking back on the Sydney matches, Sauvage said the opening ceremony was a moment she will never forget

« My family was standing in the stands, they had no idea either, so it was a big surprise for them too, » said Sauvage

But medals and fanfare aside, Sauvage said the Sydney Paralympic Games changed the way people with disabilities are viewed

« It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not, [the audience] just saw the sport and maybe they saw it in a little different light, » she said

And it is this true sense of competition that the superstar coach instills in his athletes

« Knowing that Louise is there and having experienced everything I want to be able to achieve is one of the most reassuring things, » said De Rozario

« I think I’m so lucky to have someone in my corner who [knows] all the emotions that come with running and training and the extreme types of success and failure, she’s been through it all. « 

Canberra woman Siobhan Paton has mixed feelings about the Sydney 2000 games At the time of the competition, she had no idea it would be her first and last Paralympic Games

Paton, who lives with an intellectual disability, was only 17 and became a household name when she won six gold medals in the pool

His beaming face was all over newspapers and magazines and a postage stamp was created in his honor Paton was later named « Paralympian of the Year »

“It was wonderful that I was number one,” she said “[But] I would have smiled if I had been number two or three, I was ecstatic, it was awesome to to have done that « 

A cheating scandal at the 2000 Paralympic Games that had nothing to do with Paton ended his swimming career

Ten members of the winning Spanish basketball team were revealed to have no intellectual disabilities They were stripped of their gold medals and a criminal investigation followed

The International Paralympic Committee banned all athletes with intellectual disabilities and they did not return until 2012 at the Paralympic Games in London

While swimming at the 2004 world championships and winning 14 gold medals, Paton was unable to compete in Athens or Beijing

She spent six weeks in the hospital receiving treatment for her mental health and still lives with depression today

« I have good days, I have bad days, I have bad weeks, » she said « I can have bad months, something will just trigger and so on, but I do facing that I live with « 

Victorian sprinter Tim Matthews was part of a relay team that won two gold medals and broke various records at the Sydney Games

He said there was no doubt that the Sydney event was a watershed moment for the disability movement around the world

« I think people with disabilities now have a voice and a lot more visibility, » he said

As Sauvage, Matthews is now giving back He is currently coaching long jump star and sprinter Kelly Cartwright – who won gold and silver at the London Games – to qualify for Tokyo

« They realize they are eligible for Paralympic sport and then [we] determine which sport is best for them based on their disability and classification, » he said.

« Then to see some of these athletes grow and develop and become Paralympic gold medalists is awesome »

When wheelchair athlete Danni Di Toro enters the stadium with the Australian team for the opening ceremony in Tokyo next year, it will be his seventh Paralympic Games

At the Sydney 2000 Games, she competed in wheelchair tennis and won a silver medal in doubles

« 20 years ago, it’s like I feel a little old », she said laughing « But it’s so weird, I feel like it was a moment ago

For Di Toro, who has competed for over 30 years, the Sydney Games took Paralympic sport to a whole new level

« You know, usually your mom, dad, and dog come to watch, but for the very first time ever, there were actually people watching and staying because what they saw was an amazing talent on display. »

Living in Melbourne, Di Toro’s training for Tokyo has been ‘pretty crazy’ due to coronavirus lockouts

Like many athletes, her coach joined her for Zoom and she set up a ball in her backyard

« It will be a very different gaming experience », she said « But if we can make it happen, it will be an amazing celebration of so much »

This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and BBC World Service which is copyrighted and may not be reproduced

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

2000 Summer Paralympic Games, Summer Paralympic Games, Louise Sauvage, Sydney

World News – UA – 20 Years Later, Sydney Paralympic Games Athletes 2000 look back at the games and their transformation their lives


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