‘Superhuman’ para-athletes look to bounce back in Paris

Jacob Shteyman |

Members of Australia’s 2024 Paralympic team pose for a photo with the prime minster in Canberra.
Members of Australia’s 2024 Paralympic team pose for a photo with the prime minster in Canberra.

Australia’s Paralympics team will leave home as para-athletes but when they touch down in Paris in August they will do so as “superhumans”.

Champion track and field athlete Vanessa Low will be participating at her fourth Paralympics and has seen the quality and competitiveness grow with each staging.

For the German-born long-jumper, who lost both her legs above the knee when she fell from a train platform as a teenager, the opportunity to become an elite athlete has changed the way she sees herself.

“I think London (2012) was a big turning point for the Paralympics where for the first time we weren’t just seen as the Games for people with a disability,” Low told AAP.

“I remember sitting on the plane and saw a big poster saying ‘meet the superhumans’, and I think that really stuck with me and it made me see the sport in a different light.”

After a car accident cruelled a promising rowing career, finding para-sports was “life-changing” for Alexandra Viney.

“I’d been a high-level young person involved in sport, the conversations and the stereotypes and the almost disrespect that was shown to people who had a disability was immense and it broke my soul,” she said.

“For eight years I struggled and since I finally reconnected with para-sport it’s been immense.

“It gave me purpose.”

The Paralympics team is ready to reassert its status as a leading nation at the Paris Games after a quieter, COVID-affected outing in Tokyo.

Australia finished eighth on the medal tally in 2021 after placing in the top five in every Games since Barcelona and Madrid 1992.

“In Paris you’re going to see one of the strongest teams ever to represent this country,” Viney said.

There’s no doubt preparation has been much smoother than for Tokyo, when quarantine restrictions limited the team’s time together.

Paris represents a golden opportunity to get back on track ahead of the home 2032 Games in Brisbane.

When Sydney hosted the 2000 Games, Australia topped the Paralympics medal tally.

“We have this amazing runway as they call it, but we can’t waste it,” said 2024 team co-captain Curtis McGrath.

“We need to make sure that we are going out there, identifying talent, getting people involved in sport.”

The Gold Coast canoeist, who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan, said increased financial support announced in June would be a game-changer for the 46 per cent of athletes who are living below the poverty line.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the doubling in funding for Paralympic programs would break down systemic barriers that have been ignored for too long.

“All the girls and boys will be watching at home, seeing what you achieve in Paris and dreaming of doing the same Brisbane in 2032,” he told the team at their official launch in Canberra on Tuesday.

“That is what is so powerful about what you do.”