Louise Sauvage OAM was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as an athlete member for the sport of athletics in 2007 and was elevated to become the 41st official Legend of Australian Sport in October 2019.
Legend status is the highest honour available in Australian sport and in Louise’s case it has extra historical significance because she is the first Para-athlete to achieve it.
Louise is recognised not just for an extraordinarily successful career as a wheelchair racer but for her pioneering efforts in raising the profile and perception of Paralympic sport and athletes in Australia and around the world. Her performances are considered part of Australian folklore and hers is the first name that springs to mind when people think about Paralympic sport.
Professionalism, dedication and a steely determination have driven a career where Louise has received universal acclaim. This was formalised in 2000 when the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards – known as the Oscars of sport – named her World Sports Person of the Year with a Disability.
That same year, she was given the honour of lighting the cauldron at her home Paralympics in Sydney and was largely responsible for elite Paralympic athletes earning the public respect and admiration that their able-bodied counterparts enjoy. She carried the flag leading out the Australian team at the Athens games four years later – which were to be her final professional competition.
In a career that began at age 16 at the International Paralympic Committee World Athletics Championships in 1990 until she retired after the Athens Paralympics in 2004, she was a dominant force.
The many highlights include:
• Nine gold and four silver medals from four Paralympic Games. Over her Paralympic career she won gold medals across every distance between 100m and 5000m.
• Two gold and one bronze medal from three appearances in 800m demonstration races at the Olympic Games, including gold at the Sydney Olympics.
• Silver at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, UK in the 800 metres.
• Twelve gold and two silver medals from four IPC World Athletics Championships.
• Five gold medals from five appearances in 800m demonstration races at the IAAF World Championships.
• Numerous victories in the world’s most prestigious road races, including four Boston marathons, three Honolulu marathons, two Berlin marathons plus the Los Angeles, Oita and Sempach marathons, and ten Oz Day 10k titles in Australia’s premier international wheelchair road race.
• During the span of her career, she set world records from 100m to 5000m, her last world record in 2004, just one month before retiring.
• Inducted into the International Paralympic Hall of Fame, inaugural inductee in the Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame, inductee in the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame, elevated to Legend status in the NSW Hall of Champions and an inductee in the Western Australian Hall of Champions.
After retiring from competition Louise became involved in coaching wheelchair athletes. She is now a well-respected coach with the NSW Institute of Sport, her athletes having achieved Commonwealth Games gold, Paralympic medals, world records and World Championship gold.
In her biography, Louise Sauvage: My Story, she summed up her attitude to life thus: “I never thought of myself as being different, or disadvantaged. I’m just me – the way I am. The circumstances of my life put me in a wheelchair – but it has been my own efforts that have taken me around the world, and to the successes I have had.”
She truly lives out the message that appears on the Sydney Harbour Supercat named in her honour: “You’ll never know what you can do or achieve until you try.”