The economic and strategic advantages of a home Games meant that the Australian contingent in Sydney was very large, made up of 286 athletes. This was 120 more athletes than the team that went to Atlanta in 1996, and double that of the contingent sent to Barcelona in 1992. Australia fielded the largest team of any nation at the Games.
The Australian Team had prepared for more than five years for the Games, following a high performance sport model, as opposed to the disability model that was still being followed by many nations. This approach had several elements: it utilised Australia’s well-established, elite sport facilities and programs including the Australian Institute of Sport and its scholarship system for athletes; it accessed funding from the Australian Sports Commission and sponsors to establish the ‘Paralympic Preparation Program’ (PPP), which allowed athletes and coaches to follow a similar preparation pathway to Olympic athletes; and it initiated an important shift from a disability-specific approach to a sport-specific approach in the training, preparation and selection of teams.
Sydney was Australia’s most successful Games, improving on the Atlanta performance to top the medal tally for the first time in Paralympic history. With 63 gold medals, 39 silver medals and 47 bronze medals, the Australian team won 22 more gold medals than the second-placed nation, Great Britain. In total, there were twenty Australian multiple gold medalists.
Siobhan Paton, an athlete with an intellectual disability, won more gold medals than any other Australian in Sydney, with six individual gold medals in the pool. In the process of winning these medals, she broke nine world records. In recognition of her success at the Sydney Games, the Australian Paralympic Committee named Paton ‘Paralympian of the Year’ in 2000.