Australia at the Toronto Summer Paralympics 1976

Forty-eight Australian athletes competed at the Torontolympiad, as the 1976 summer Paralympics was called. The 1976 Games marked the first time that the Paralympics was opened to non-wheelchair athletes, with the addition of events for amputee and vision impaired athletes. The Australian team was composed of athletes from the three disability groups. Australia sent thirty-two athletes with spinal cord injuries, twelve competitors with visual impairments and four amputee athletes. Each disability group operated as an autonomous team within the broader Australian team.

A pre-departure memo to all Team members from Kevin Betts, the Team Manager, showed that resources were stretched. Past team members were asked to include in their luggage spare Australian green tracksuits and suitable green and gold sports shoes. Newcomers would receive an extra T-shirt. All team members were asked “to have uniformity of dress please buy a terry towel gold hat”.

The amputee and vision impaired athletes performed very well. The relatively small contingent of amputee athletes won two gold, three silver, and one bronze medal. Gail Nicholson starred in the pool, winning freestyle and backstroke events. Vision impaired athletes won two gold medals and one silver in lawn bowls, as well as a further three silver and two bronze in track and field events. Australian athletes with spinal cord injuries produced two triple gold medalists in Eric Russell and Tracey Freeman. Russell won the discus, shot put and pentathlon; Freeman won the wheelchair sprint, javelin and shot put, creating three world records in events for athletes with quadriplegia.On her return to Australia, Freeman became the first athlete with a disability to win The Courier-Mail Sportswoman of the Year award.

Russell became embroiled in the political controversy regarding the participation at the Games by a team from South Africa, when he refused to accept his discus gold medal. He stated that this was in protest to politics playing a role in the Games itself.

Overall, Australia finished 10th on the medal tally, with 17 gold, 16 silver and 17 bronze medals.

Forty-eight Australian athletes competed at the 1976 Paralympics, including amputee and vision impaired athletes for the first time.