Australia has participated in every Summer Paralympic Games since the inception of the Paralympics in the year 1960. The 1976 Paralympic Games in Toronto was Australia’s fifth Paralympic Games. Australia competed in 10 out of the 13 sports and were able to win medals in six of these sports. There were 44 athletes representing Australia at the Games with a number of these athletes participating in multiple sports. Of the 44 athletes, 34 were males and 10 were females. As a team, Australia won 42 medals, 16 of which were gold. This placed it just outside the top 10 in 11th position at the end of the Games. The Australian team won more gold medals at the 1976 Paralympic Games than at any of the previous four Paralympic Games. 27 athletes finished on the podium in their respective events. This represents more than half the number of athletes that Australia sent to Toronto. Six world records were broken by Australian athletes on their way to winning their respective events.
The 1976 Summer Paralympic Games was held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada from August 4–12. This was the first and only time that Canada has hosted a Summer Paralympic Games. The Games were not held in the same city as the Olympic Games of the same year, with the 1976 Olympic Games held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. At the time, the 1976 Summer Paralympics in Toronto was called the ‘Torontolympiad’. The name ‘Paralympic Games’ was not officially adopted until 1984. The 1976 Summer Paralympics was the first time that amputees and visionally impaired athletes were invited to participate in the Paralympic Games. For the previous four Paralympic Games, participation was restricted to spinal cord injury athletes. Other disabilities – amputees, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual Impaired and Vision Impaired – were unable to compete at the Paralympic Games. However, they had their own local and national competitions and, in some cases, their own world championships. Canadian athletes from each of disabilities, amputees, spinal cord injuries and visually impaired, lit the flame at the Opening ceremony at Woodbine Racecourse in front of 20 000 spectators. The inclusion of more disability categories and the introduction of new sports including Shooting and Goalball increased the number of medal events at the Paralympic Games. There were 13 sports in total at the 1976 Summer Paralympics, 8 of which women participated in. The 1976 Summer Paralympics was the first Games in which there was television coverage of the events. The performances were shown to a wide audience of viewers from the Southern Ontario region. There was however, no television coverage in Australia dedicated to the 1976 Paralympic Games.
The top Australian athletes at the 1976 Paralympic Games were triple gold medallists, Eric Russell and Tracey Freeman and double gold medallist, Gail Nicholson.Eric Russell
Eric Russell won three Gold medals as well as a silver medal at his first Paralympic Games. Russell won the discus, shot put and the pentathlon events. He also competed in wheelchair basketball but did not win a medal as the team did not advance pass the group round stage. Russell won the Men’s Discus 3 event with a world record throw of 27.15 metres. David Williamson of the USA placed second with a throw of 25.57 metres. Russell went on to compete at two more Paralympic Games, winning a total of 4 gold medals, 1 silver and 2 bronze throughout his career.Tracey Freeman
Tracey Freeman competed at her first Paralympics in 1972 and represented Australia for a second time in 1976. At the 1976 Paralympic Games, Freeman won a medal in 5 of the 6 events in which she competed in. Freeman competed in a number of track and field events including shot put, the javelin, discus and sprint races and achieved a world record for every event in which she won a gold medal. In 1972, Freeman became the first female athlete to win a gold medal for Australia in a track and field event at the Paralympic Games. She went on to win a total of six gold medals and four silver medals making her one of the most successful Paralympians of her time to represent Australia. Her performance in Toronto made her the most successful Australian athlete at the 1976 games. Freeman's incredible effort earned her the Queensland Sportswomen of the Year Award, the first time it has been given to a disabled athlete, and marked the end of her international career. Her career only spanned two Paralympics, as the injuries from a car accident thwarted her efforts to qualify for the 1980 Paralympics, but she won 10 medals, six of which were gold.Gail Nicholson
Gail Nicholson was the golden girl of the pool winning 2 gold medals in swimming events. Nicholson won the 100 metres freestyle event in world record time as well as the 100 metres backstroke event in a time of 1 minute 45 seconds.Vic Renalson
Vic Renalson had previously won medals at the 1964,1968 and 1972 Summer Paralympics in the heavyweight division. His gold medal at the Toronto Games in the middleweight weightlifting event brought the total number of medals won in weightlifting events to 4, 3 gold medals and 1 silver medal. Renalson did not compete in any track and field events at the 1976 Paralympic games however, he had won 2 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 2 bronze medals in track and field events in previous games bringing the total number of medals won at the Paralympic Games to 10. After his retirement, Renalson would go on to become successful coach with the Australian institute of sport and at the Seoul Paralympic Games.
Prior to the start of the Games, there was controversy regarding the participation of the South African team. This was the first time that a political issue had caused a disruption to the Paralympics. A number of countries including Kenya, Sudan and Yugoslavia withdrew their athletes from the Games in protest to the participation of South Africa in the Games. Allowing South Africa into the Games was seen by these countries as agreeing to the apartheid policy implemented by the South African Government at the time. One of Australia’s gold medal winners, Eric Russell entered into the controversy by refusing to accept his gold medal at the podium for winning the men’s wheelchair discus event. He stated that this was in protest to politics playing a role in the Games itself. It was later reported that Russell had wanted to present the medal to Ludwig Guttman, the founder of the Paralympic Games, but Guttman had refused to accept it. Guttman would later present the medal to Russell at a later date. The medal was then sold at an auction to a real estate agency to raise money for a Queensland rugby player. The last minute withdrawals caused havoc to the organisation of the Games as a result of rescheduling issues. There was a lack of communication between athletes and organisers in regards to event schedules as the organisers rushed to re-schedule events for the next day’s competition. The Australian wheelchair basketball team missed their group round match because of confusion over the match schedule. The match was later re-scheduled to a later time however, the team was unable to make it pass the group round stage.
Qualifying for the 1976 Summer Paralympics for individual events took place at the National Wheelchair Games held in Brisbane earlier in the year. The games were sponsored by the Queensland Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association. Selection for team sports was made by the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Council with assistance from the state organisations. The federal government provided a number of grants to help cover the travel costs for the Australian national Paralympic team to go to Toronto for the games. These subsidies were small and most athletes were expected to pay their own way in order to compete. The Queensland Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association also provided financial support to athletes from Queensland who competed at the 1976 Paralympic Games.
Australia represented by:
Men – Wayne Flood, Roy Fowler, Jeff Heath, Ross Soutar
Women – Charmaine McLean, Elizabeth Richards, Margaret Ross
Australia did not win any medals.
Australia had four male representatives in Archery. Roy Fowler finished 14th in the Men’s FITA Round Open event with 2048 points. He was 152 points behind the gold medal winner, Guy Grun from Belgium. Jeff Heath competed in the Men’s novice round open event and finished in 11th position. Ross Soutar competed for Australia in the shot metric round open event and placed 2nd. However, since there were only two competitors in the event, he was not awarded the silver medal. Wayne Flood also competed but did not advance to the final.
On the women’s side, Australia had three representatives. Margaret Ross competed in the advanced metric round event and finished in 10th position. Charmaine McLean came the closest of any of the Australians to winning a medal, placing 4th in her event, the novice round open. Elizabeth Richards did not advance to the final of her event.
Australia also competed as a team in the Men’s noive and tetraplegics round A-C event in which it placed last with 1314 points. Australia ended the 1976 games with no medals in Archery.
Australia represented by:
Men – Robert Faulkner, Wayne Flood, Paul Gianni, Dennis Kay, John Kestel, John Kidd, Stan Kosmala, Peter Marsh, John Martin, Terry Mason, Robert McIntyre, Jeff McNeil, Jago Mikulic, Harry Moseby, Richard Oliver, Wayne Patchett, Frank Ponta, Vic Renalson, Doug Rupe, Eric Russell Ross Soutar, Murray Todd
Women – Tracey Freeman, Elaine Schreiber
The Australian athletics’ team won 23 medals, of which 7 were gold, 11 were silver and 5 were bronze medals.
Of the 16 gold medals won by Australia, 7 were won by the track and field team. The team consisted of 24 athletes who made up more than half of the total Australian team. Only two athletes were females while the remaining 22 were males. Outstanding performances were seen by a number of athletes including Tracey Freeman and Eric Russell who both won three gold medals each. Freeman won the wheelchair sprint, javelin and shot put, creating three world records in events for quadriplegics as well as picking up silver medals in the slalom and discus events. Wayne Patchett won the remaining gold medal in the Men’s discus throw 1A event as well as a silver in the shot-put event.
Australia represented by:
Men – Roy Fowler, Jeff Heath, John Kestel
Women – Elizabeth Richards, Charmaine McLean, Margaret Ross
Australia won 1 gold medal - John Kestel and Margaret Ross in Mixed pairs open.