Australia’s delegation of 167 (95 male and 72 female) athletes in 13 sports (out of 20), and 122 officials, was the country’s largest-ever Paralympic delegation to an away Games. The team sent to Beijing was described as the emergence of the new generation of Australian athletes, with 56 percent of the team attending their first Paralympic Games. Almost 45 percent of the Australian Team’s athletes were women, which represented the highest proportion of female competitors to represent the nation at any Paralympic Games.
Australians at home had more opportunities than any time in history to follow the triumphs and tragedies of their athletes through a combination of television and other media; total media coverage of the Beijing Games was up more than 65 percent on Athens four years earlier. This incredible media covered resulted from a strategy created by the APC, which included targeting releases and stories to appropriate outlets, working closely with Australian Associated Press (AAP) to maximise distribution of key stories, developing relationships with editors and key journalists, developing a program of events and activities, and providing quality background information and stories.
The APC’s internal target for the Australian Team was a top-5 finish on the overall medal tally. This was a challenging goal considering that China was expected to dominate as the home nation, the traditional success of Great Britain and the USA, as well as the rapid development of the sporting talent in countries such as the Ukraine, Brazil and South Africa. Despite the intense competition, Australia met that goal, finishing fourth overall with 79 medals, and fifth on the gold medal tally, with 23 gold medals. Some extraordinary individual performances by Australian athletes significantly contributed to the medal tally. Four athletes alone won a total of 14 gold medals, contributing more than half of total gold won by Australian Paralympians: Matthew Cowdrey (swimming – 5 gold); Peter Leek (swimming – 3 gold); Heath Francis (track and field – 3 gold); and Evan O’Hanlon (track and field – 3 gold).
Australians set 21 new world records, 31 Paralympic records, 79 Australian records and recorded 164 personal bests, and had excelled in team sports and relays, winning medals in all three team sports and five of the six relay events. While the Australian team had achieved the APC’s medal target, the Beijing Games also provided a strong reminder of how highly competitive Paralympic sport had become.