In Rio, the team won 81 almost identically – 22 gold, 30 silver and 29 bronze.
In terms of gold, this was Australia’s worst harvest since 1980, but after an extremely disruptive 18 months color has never been less important.
Exhibit A: Jaryd Clifford, who was set to win multiple gold medals here. Slumped in a chair, tears of joy streaming down his face, that’s what he said in the mixed zone after winning a third medal in the marathon.
“I thought I would leave these Games completely devastated if I didn’t win a gold medal,” said Clifford. “But sport is more than that. [After a silver in the 5000m] I was broken. In my heart, I felt like gold was going to be one of the hardest things to overcome.
“But you know what… I completed two marathons in 2021. I wasn’t supposed to run a marathon until 2024. If you had told me that at the start of the year, I would have said ‘you are f- — I’m kidding’.
“I played team sports and never felt the same as this Paralympic team. Everyone gets together and that’s the most special thing.
It was a Paralympic Games where stories fell in your lap no matter where you looked.
Loved Rowan Crothers celebration at the top of the rope of the path. I loved Darren Hicks’ road race. I loved that Clifford didn’t give up in his 5000m in the scorching heat.
I loved seeing Ben Popham cry four tenths of a second after winning gold. I loved Col Pearse crying for four minutes on live TV.
I loved shot putter Todd Hodgetts who ripped his shirt off and yelled, “This is what this is about!”
What I didn’t like was that Michael Roeger apologized for his performance in the marathon on Sunday. As remarkable Channel Seven reporter Matt Carmichael quickly reminded Roeger, he made his country proud and an unfortunate injury was beyond his control.
These were moments – among many others – that will be remembered for a long time by Australians with new heroes.
But without a doubt, the time for the sliding doors came last Thursday when medal bonus parity was reached with the Olympians. I will never forget to hear what this meant to veterans like Alcott and Ellie Cole.
It was fitting for Cole to carry the Australian flag at the closing ceremony on Sunday night. She even called her close friend Cate Campbell on Sunday afternoon for advice.
McLoughlin, the boss of an incredibly difficult operation to get athletes in and out of athletes safely, was perhaps Tokyo’s proudest person on Sunday.
“I can’t express how proud I am of the team,” said McLoughlin.
“I am delighted that so many eyeballs got to see our athletes. It’s no surprise that people have fallen in love with our team because I have lived and breathed Paralympic sport for 13 years.
“We’ve always seen that element of ‘wow, they’re amazing’ every four years, but it took it to another level. The level of recognition of them as elite athletes and the recognition of what is possible has been enormous before [Brisbane] 2032. How many children have watched these games and said to themselves “wow, this could be me”.
The hotel quarantine will be mentally taxing for the athletes, but McLoughlin has revealed talks are underway with the government to possibly arrange a home quarantine for some severely disabled athletes who need caregivers. Well Named.
There was also good news, with Disken’s family postponing his mother’s funeral until he was out of quarantine.
When the world returns to normal, these athletes deserve a ticker parade, as they warmed the collective soul of the country with grace, integrity and good old Australian passion in a matter of weeks this journalist will never forget.
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