Deadly Vibe Issue 92 October 2004
He’s been compared with the Thorpedo and he’s broken more records than a clumsy DJ – Paralympic swimmer Ben Austin is one the deadliest champions to grace the pool.
Paralympian Ben Austin has never let a little something like a missing arm stop him from making the most out of life. To prove it, he has just returned from his second Paralympic Games carrying a gold and silver medal.
Ben lost his left arm from just above the elbow when he was only two weeks old, when complications following his birth forced doctors to amputate. But he never let his disability hold him back. Ben has been swimming since the age of five, and has represented his region in able-bodied swimming events. He has also played rugby league, rugby union and water polo for his home town of Wellington, in the central west of NSW.
Ben’s sister Kate says: “We’re a pretty sporty family but I think Ben is so much more competitive because of his disability. He’s always had to try so much harder to prove himself.”
Ben, 23, only took up competitive swimming when he was 19, six months before the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games.
“He used to race against able-bodied swimmers,” says Kate. “But it was never serious.”
But when Ben’s mother took him to his first disability state championships, he was noticed by the head coach of the national Paralympic swimming squad. Since that day, he hasn’t looked back.
“He was the first Paralympian to get a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport,” Kate says.
During the 2000 Paralympics, Ben took out silver for the 200-metre individual medley and as part of the 4x100m freestyle relay team, and won bronze for the 100m butterfly and 4x100m medley relay.
“He’s so strong in the water,” says Kate. “But he’s always been good at sport of all kinds.”
At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Ben took out the gold medal in both the 50 and the 100m freestyle, setting a world record in both events. The only other athletes to break world records at those Games were Ian Thorpe and the Australian cycling team.
Ben’s style and stamina have been compared with that of Ian Thorpe.
In Athens, Ben competed in the 50m and 100m freestyle, the 100m butterfly, the 200m individual medley and two relay events.
His parents flew over to Greece to support their son, but his four sisters didn’t get to be there.
“It would have cost over $10,000 for us all to go,” says Kate. “But we were kicking ourselves afterwards because we thought the Games would be televised live, but they only showed highlights after the event.”
Before Ben’s gold-medal winning race in the 100m freestyle, his sisters sat anxiously by the phone waiting for news.
“I actually fell asleep, and they had to wake me up when mum called,” Kate recalls. “She just said, “˜He got the gold’!”
Ben not only won gold, beating Greece’s Konstantinos Fyks, he also broke the world record in the S8 amputee class in a time of 59.83 seconds.
“Mum said that the whole stadium was full of Greeks cheering Fyks on,” Kate says. “Normally the stadium wasn’t really full, so it must have been weird for Ben to have all those people there, cheering for someone else.”
The previous day, Ben missed out on the gold in the 100m butterfly by a hair’s breadth, seeing the world record he had set in the heats beaten by China’s Xiao Su Wang in the final.
“He was disappointed with that result,” Kate admits. “But I think the next day’s gold medal made up for that!”
(story 1/10/2004 end)