FINEST WAY TO ‘BRING IT HOME’
PARALYMPIC legend Kurt Fearnley has been involved in a few epic races himself, so when he called Madi di Rozario’s sensational victory in Tokyo as the greatest marathon he’s seen in the green and gold then, you knew this really was something special.
Like Fearnley, Louise Sauvage has been in a few tough scraps too, winning nine Paralympic gold medals in her career, so when she described di Rozario’s win as a “heartstopper”, that was the ultimate proof something extraordinary had taken place.
And they were right. The marathon has always held a special place with the Australian public because it is
the ultimate test of body and mind, but di Rozario’s win in the women’s wheelchair race was something right out of the box.
Trailing for almost the entire 42km trip, she gambled by making her move to take the lead on the gut-busting hill climb 2km from the finish, but it was a risky strategy.
She entered the Olympic stadium first, but was spent and hadn’t counted on Switzerland’s Manuela Schaer challenging her on the longest lap of her career around the synthetic track.
For everyone watching in Australia, it was a rare moment for celebration at such a bleak time in history, because the 27-year-old looked beaten but never gave up, somehow finding the energy for one last
push when she had nothing left to clinch Australia’s 21st and final gold in Japan.
“That finish line definitely could not have come quick enough,” di Rozario said.
“There was a moment there when I was like ‘just make peace with silver because this hurts, so that would be OK.’
“But I’m just so happy that I had enough in me to bring it home.”
The response to di Rozario’s win was instant and global, as footage of her courageous finish began trending on social media.
But it was those who are closest to her that best summed up what she had achieved.
“I just really hoped she could hang on,” said Sauvage,
who now coaches di Rozario. “She was just hanging on, it’s horrible, I’ve done it myself, but to come home and sprint the last bit is just insane, isn’t it?”
Born with a neurological disease which inflamed her spinal cord, di Rozario has spent a lifetime becoming an overnight success.
The toy-maker Barbie made a replica doll of her and Tokyo was her fourth Paralympics, but the first where she won gold.
Like everyone else, di Rozario feared her best chances of winning the biggest prize in Paralympic sport had come and gone, but she refused to give in.
Not only did she win the marathon, but she also won the 800m and a silver in the
1500m, but said what pleases her most is the that she played a part in raising the profile of the entire Australian Paralympic team.
“I’m a little bit overwhelmed, to be honest,” she said. “These Paralympic Games have had such an enormous impact back home in Australia.
“I think it’s going to be huge. I think some Games are a catalyst.
“I think Sydney 2000 was one, London 2012 was one and I haven’t seen the full effects of Tokyo just yet, but I’ve got a really good feeling this could be one as well.
“I’m incredibly biased, but you can’t not fall in love with this team and I think that that’s definitely coming through.”