The Paralympics are filled with memorable moments—stories of records broken and medals won. We’ve dived into the history books and collected five such stories.
The Paralympics may have a slightly shorter history than the Olympics, but that history is still jam packed with incredible feats of strength and speed, and plenty of records broken and medals won.
With the Tokyo Paralympics starting today, we’ve taken a dive into the history books to learn a little more about some of the women who have worn—or are still wearing—the green and gold.
Doing double duty: Melissa Tapper
Table tennis champion, Melissa Tapper made her Paralympics debut in 2012 in London, where she made the bronze medal game. It was Australia’s best result in table tennis in nearly thirty years. But Tapper had plenty more record-breaking excellence to come. In 2016, she qualified for the Rio Olympics and the Rio Paralympics—the first Australian athlete to compete at both Games in one year. A pretty spectacular feat! But Tapper isn’t finished yet. She’s doing double duty again in 2021 and we won’t have to wait long to cheer her on with competition kicking off on August 25.
Winning gold and breaking records: the Lorraine Dodd way
When it comes to breaking records and winning medals, Lorraine Dodd sets the bar incredibly high. Dodd’s Paralympics story began in 1966 at the Kingston Games in Jamaica. She won six gold medals—three in athletics and three in swimming—as well as two bronze medals. But Dodd wasn’t finished. She returned to the big stage in 1968 for the Tel Aviv games where she not only won three gold medals but also broke three world records in the 25m backstroke, 25m breaststroke and 25m freestyle. She did all that in one day. Yes, you read that correctly—three gold medals and three world records in one day.
Shooting for gold: Elizabeth “Libby” Kosmala (née Richards)
In 2016, Libby Kosmala was selected for her twelfth Paralympics. Yes, twelve! Kosmala’s first Paralympics were the 1972 Games where she competed in swimming and athletics, winning a bronze medal in the swimming. When the 1976 Games rolled around, Kosmala had shifted her focus to shooting and she never looked back. She won two gold and two silver medals at the 1976 and 1980 Games. And then came 1984—the Paralympics that nearly didn’t happen. Not bothered by the controversy, Kosmala not only picked up a gold medal in each of her four events, she also broke a world record in each event. More medals followed in 1988, with Kosmala picking up three gold and one silver.
Kosmala continued competing right through the 90s and 00s. At the 2008 games in Beijing, she was the oldest Australian competitor. She was the oldest Paralympian at the 2012 and 2016 Games. All up, Kosmala, who retired from competition after Rio, won 13 medals, including nine gold.
In an interview for the Australian Centre for Paralympic Studies oral history project Kosmala was asked what the secret to such remarkable longevity was. She said there wasn’t a secret.
“I think it’s just my love and enjoyment of sport and participating.”
Aussie Gliders back and ready to roll
The Gliders, Australia’s women’s wheelchair basketball team, are back at the Paralympics after missing Rio in 2016. The 2021 team, will feature nine debutants—Mary Friday, Isabel Martin, Taishar Ovens, Ella Sabljak, Shelley Cornau, Natalie Alexander, Bree Mellberg, Jessica Cronje and Georgia Munro-Cook—alongside experienced campaigners Sarah Vinci, Amber Merritt and Hannah Dodd.
Women’s wheelchair basketball was first played at the 1968 Games. But it would be nearly 30 years before an Aussie team competed, with the green and gold debuting at the 1992 Barcelona Games. They more than made up for those missed opportunities by winning medals at four consecutive Paralympics between 2000 and 2012. The Gliders finished just outside the medals in 1992 and again in 1996. But they broke through to win a silver medal on home soil in Sydney in 2000. That sparked their winning spree with the team collecting another silver in 2004 at Athens, bronze in Beijing and silver in London. With their consistently strong record, the Gliders have well and truly stamped their mark on the sport. They’ll have all of Australia cheering them on in Tokyo.
A trailblazer: Daphne Hilton
If you’re a regular Siren reader, you’ve probably already heard about the brilliant Daphne Hilton whose story we wrote about last year. But we couldn’t put together a list of memorable moments from the history of Australian women at the Paralympics without mentioning Daphne Hilton.
At the Rome Paralympics in 1960, Australia won ten medals. Six of those medals were Hilton’s. She won two gold medals for swimming, three silver medals for archery and a bronze for shot put. Hilton was the first woman to wear the green and gold at the Paralympics. She was the only woman representing Australia in Rome in 1960.
Four years later at the Tokyo Games, Hilton won gold in table tennis as well as a silver medal and three bronze medals. In the 1968 Games in Tel Aviv, she added a silver and two bronze to her tally.
All up, Hilton won 14 medals competing in five different sports—athletics, swimming, archery, table tennis and fencing. As we wrote last year: “Hilton set a record that is unlikely to ever be broken in either the Paralympics or the Olympics”.
Hilton died in 2016 but her legacy endures. A pioneer and a trailblazer, her contribution to sport is significant.
There’s plenty more to discover
Excitingly, for this history nerd at least, Paralympics Australia are big on celebrating their own history. In 2010, they established the Australian Paralympic History Project which aims to “capture, manage and preserve the history of the Paralympic movement in Australia”. The projects collects a range of materials including oral histories, images, scrapbooks scans and memorabilia.
Through this History project, Paralympics Australia are actively preserving the history of the Paralympics in Australia. Part of the preservation includes a partnership with Wikipedia which has seen articles about every Australian Paralympic medallist created. Take a wander through Australia’s Paralympics history and you’ll find plenty more moments to enjoy.