In the lead-up to the 1996 Atlanta Summer Paralympic Games, the then Australian Paralympic Federation (APF) innovatively altered its approach to developing athlete performance. The key change was the adoption of a sport-specific rather than a disability-specific approach to the preparation of athletes and the organisation of the Team. Athletes with disability increasingly followed the full range of training, coaching and support regimes used by able-bodied athletes, including being serviced by qualified, sport-specific coaches. These strategies to enhance athletic performances were innovative and lasting and changed the future of Australian Paralympic sport. They were largely enabled by the launch of the Paralympic Preparation Program at the end of 1994, which saw increased funding through the federal government’s Olympic Athlete Program and greater competition opportunities for athletes. These innovations meant that the team for the Atlanta Games was better prepared than any previous team in Australian Paralympic history.
The preparation of the 165 Australian athletes and 60 support staff was made apparent when the team led the medal count up to the second-last day, and placed second only to the USA overall with 106 medals (42 gold, 37 silver, and 27 bronze) in 10 of the 13 events it contested. Cycling, swimming and men’s basketball finished their competition ranked first in the world in their sports. A large majority of the Australian team (66%) and 100% of the swimmers medalled or achieved personal bests. The athletics team contributed 19 gold medals, shared among 17 people, setting the stage for a strong, deep team in the years ahead. Seven individuals won double gold medals, with many other outstanding performances across all sports.