Three-time Paralympian Heath Francis has today announced his retirement from Athletics, effective immediately.
Most recently representing Australia at the XIX Commonwealth Games in New Delhi (IND), Francis’ illustrious career spans more than a decade.
He retires as the reigning Paralympic champion over 100m, 200m, and 400m and with a Paralympic medal tally of six gold, four silver and three bronze medals from the Paralympic Games in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).
Born and raised in Newcastle (NSW), Francis had his right arm amputated at the age of seven after it was caught in a meat mincer on the family farm. He first donned the green and gold of Australia at the 1998 IPC Athletics World Championships in Birmingham (GBR).
“I have been so lucky to be involved in the sport for such a long time, and the privilege of having two international championships on home soil is something I will always remember,” Francis said.
“Competing at Sydney 2000, then again at the MCG for the Commonwealth Games was just great not to mention opportunities in Athens, Beijing and New Delhi.
“Sydney raised the profile of the Paralympics in Australia and around the world, with Athens and Beijing continuing to build the event beyond that.
“Coming home from Beijing with three gold medals and two world records was unbelievable, to the credit of the Chinese the Birds Nest was always full when we raced and my 200m and 400m races over there were the best of my career.”
The winner of three gold medals (T46 100m, 200m, 400m) at the 2006 IPC Athletics World Championships in Assen (NED), Francis is equally lauded away from the track, having been the recipient of the 1999 Pierre De Coubertin Award, an Order of Australia Medal in 2001 and the Athletics Australia Athlete with a Disability of the Year Award in 2006.
Australian Paralympic Committee Chief Executive Jason Hellwig said Francis’ contribution to Australian Paralympic sport had been hugely significant.
“Heath retires as one of the greats of Australian Paralympic athletics, and I congratulate him on his outstanding career,” Hellwig said.
“I was one of the team managers of the Australian athletics squad when Heath competed at his first World Championships as a teenager in 1998, and it has been a great pleasure to watch his career progress since.”
“Not only was he a tremendous competitor, he has been a tremendous ambassador for Paralympic sport and the Australian Paralympic Committee.”
Director of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Professor Peter Fricker highlighted the valuable contribution Francis had made since joining the Institute as a residential scholarship holder seven years ago, including being named a joint winner of the 2008 AIS Athlete of the Year award.
“Heath’s sporting achievements have been outstanding, but just as importantly he has made a significant impact at the Institute as a strong role model to all athletes, which is a credit to his character. We wish him all the best in the future.”
Athletics Australia Paralympic Preparation Program Manager Rohan Short has this morning also honoured one of Australia’s greatest athletes.
“It would be tough to find a better representative of Australia on the international stage than Heath,” Short said.
“He has achieved great success in the form of medals, provided inspiration to many up-and-coming athletes with a disability whilst always acting as a fantastic team leader for his training squad and the team as a whole.”
Looking forward to the a life away from the track, Francis is now hopeful that he can now return the favour and contribute to the sport that has supported him.
“The end of athletics opens a lot of new opportunities for me and I am really excited about that,” Francis said.
“I’m working with Westpac as part of their graduate program and it’s an opportunity I can’t wait to pursue, plus I am hopeful that I can use my experiences to give back to Paralympic sport which has always supported me.”