“To be acknowledged by the Australian Paralympic Committee and know that they are behind me is a such a good feeling. I knew I’d be up against a tough field of nominees and to have my dedication to swimming acknowledged is phenomenal."
Eight-time London 2012 gold medallist Jacqueline Freney was crowned Australia’s 2012 Paralympian of the Year at a gala awards ceremony in Sydney on Thursday evening (8 November).
The 20-year-old swimmer from the New South Wales far north coast claimed the Australian Paralympic Committee’s (APC) top prize over fellow swimmer Matthew Cowdrey, athletics stars Evan O’Hanlon and Kelly Cartwright, cyclist Felicity Johnson and wheelchair rugby player Ryley Batt.
Freney blitzed the field to win eight gold medals in as many events at her second Paralympic Games in London. With six individual victories, two relay wins and two world records, her anchor leg of the 4x100m medley relay in her final race remains one of the finest performances of the Games.
Freney, who was also awarded Female Athlete of the Year, was the most successful athlete of the entire Games and is now Australia’s most successful athlete at a single Paralympics.
“It is an absolute honour, I didn’t expect this at all,” Freney told the APC.
“To be acknowledged by the Australian Paralympic Committee and know that they are behind me is a such a good feeling. I knew I’d be up against a tough field of nominees and to have my dedication to swimming acknowledged is phenomenal.
“It’s been a pretty busy time since London and I’ve really enjoyed the post-Games atmosphere. All my hard work has finally paid off and to win this award and experience the amazing public support is a wonderful thing.”
Male Athlete of the Year
Dual-gold medallist sprinter O’Hanlon edged out a close field to win Australia’s Male Athlete of the Year. The 24-year-old dominated on the track to win the coveted 100m and 200m gold, both in world-record times and secured his title as Australia’s fastest-ever Paralympian.
O’Hanlon continued his perfect Paralympic record of five gold medals from five events, all in world-record times and was given the honour of Australia’s flag bearer at the London Closing Ceremony.
Team of the Year
The Australian wheelchair rugby team, the Steelers, and sailing’s two-person SKUD 18 crew were tied as winners of Team of the Year.
Having won every quarter of every game, Australia’s wheelchair rugby team returned from London with the gold medal they dreamed of. Having won silver twice before, Australia defeated Canada, 66-51, to claim the team’s first-ever gold on the last day of the Games.
An unlikely pair, sailor Daniel Fitzgibbon and five-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player Liesl Tesch combined their skills on the water to win Australia’s first sailing gold since Sydney 2000. Fitzgibbon’s strategic sailing skills and Tesch’s competitive nature and natural talent were for all to see as the SKUD 18 pair won four of the 10 regatta races and never once finished outside the top three.
Junior Athlete of the Year
Tied winners of Junior Athlete of the Year Maddison Elliott and Rheed McCracken were the youngest members of the 2012 Paralympic Team.
Thirteen-year-old Elliott was the youngest Australian to ever compete at a Paralympic Games. Relatively unknown on the international swimming circuit, she surprised many when she won gold in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, silver in the 50m freestyle and bronze in the 100m and 400m freestyle.
Meanwhile, on the track, 15-year-old McCracken won bronze in the 200m before going one better to win silver in the 100m on the final day of athletics competition, earmarking him as one of Australia’s track stars of the future.
Coach of the Year
Cycling head coach Peter Day enjoyed one of Australia’s most successful Games campaigns ever in Paralympic cycling. His team of 12 athletes and three sighted pilots combined to win six gold, four silver and four bronze medals, doubling the number of cycling gold won in Beijing 2008.
Under Day’s guidance and experience, 14 of the 15 athletes returned home with a medal and the team set five new world records, six Paralympic records, 12 Australian records and 19 personal bests.
President’s Medal for Excellence in Sportsmanship
Cyclist Kieran Modra and shooter Libby Kosmala were honoured for their excellence in sportsmanship when APC President Greg Hartung awarded them with the President’s Medal. With 14 gold medals between them, it was a fitting honour for the pair, who exemplify the award’s values of respect, honour, fairness, modesty and integrity.
Tandem cyclist Modra competed at his seventh Games in London and remarkably recovered from a horrific car accident in December 2011 to win the 4km individual pursuit at three consecutive Games alongside sighted pilot Scott McPhee. Having competed in three sports over his career, Modra’s dedication and excellence in sport shone through to win his fifth Paralympic gold medal.
Competing at her 11th Games and with nine Paralympic gold medals, shooter Kosmala stands as one of the most decorated and experienced athletes in Australia. Her love and passion for shooting was evident when, at 70, she became the oldest athlete to compete at the London Games and made the final of her pet event, the 10m air rifle standing. With more than 40 years experience at the Paralympic Games, Kosmala was not only an inspiration to her fellow shooters but to all athletes on the team.
Australia’s most prolific gold medallist, Cowdrey, was honoured with a special presentation in recognition of his remarkable achievements. At just 23, Cowdrey has won more Paralympic gold medals than any other Australian, putting his name in the record books with 13 golds.
Not only is the South Australian the nation’s most prolific gold medallist, his five gold, two silver and one bronze medal in London took his career total to 22 medals to become Australia’s most decorated Paralympian of all-time.