Two more swimmers were inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, as Leisel Jones and Priya Cooper had their names added at an awards gala in Melbourne Tuesday.
Jones is one of Australia’s most popular swimmers, with an elite career that spanned four Olympic Games. She was just 15 years old when she made her Olympic debut in 2000, earning silver medals in the 100 breast and 400 medley relay. Jones became known as a perennial bridesmaid for the early part of her senior career, missing out on the gold medal at the world championships and Olympics by small margins. That changed in 2005 when she won the 100 breast at the world championships, and continued all the way through the 2008 Olympics. She capped off her career with a comeback of sorts at the 2012 Olympics, earning a silver medal in the 400 medley relay.
Cooper won nine Paralympic gold medals across three Paralympics from 1992 to 2000, ending her career in her home country at the Sydney Paralympics. Cooper was named Australia’s team captain in 1996 and 2000, and is the first Paralympic swimmer inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
The two join such notable swimmers as Brad Cooper, Dawn Fraser, Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe and Susie O’Neill.
Emily Seebohm, a double world champion in the backstrokes this year, was nominated for Sport Australia’s “The Don Award” at the ceremony, but lost out to golf player Jason Day.
More from the Swimming Australia press release:
Born with cerebral palsy, Priya Cooper OAM chose to never let herself be identified by her limitations – and through a near decade long career as a three-time Paralympian, her success led a movement which proved to the rest of the world that no one need define her or any other disabled athlete by what they couldn’t do.
In the first Paralympic Games of her career, the then 17-year-old Cooper claimed gold in the 50m freestyle S8, the 100m freestyle S8 and the 200m individual medley SM6-7, with a world record and three Paralympic records along the way.
She continued on to Atlanta 1996 – this time as co-captain of the Australian team – and dominated the pool to earn five gold medals, one silver and one bronze. She broke world records in the 400m freestyle S8, the 100m backstroke S8 and 100m freestyle S8.
By 1998 and the World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, three more gold medals and a further two world records solidified what had been an extraordinary run of success for Cooper since Barcelona 1992, as she continued to grow with each race and major event.
Her attention turned to Sydney 2000 and what would ultimately be her final Paralympic Games. It was a methodical preparation as she moved to the host city some 18 months prior and undertook a hands on role with the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.
Even a severe shoulder injury could not dampen her hopes of winning gold on home soil. She picked up bronze in the 100m freestyle S8 as well as the 4x100m medley relay, and achieved her ultimate goal by winning the 400m freestyle S8 in front of a Sydney International Aquatic Centre packed with adoring Australian fans.
Whilst Sydney 2000 saw the curtain fall on her extraordinary career, it was just the start for Jones, who qualified for the Sydney at just 14, a youngster Australians watched grow before their eyes to become one of our most successful female swimmers.
Jones won individual silvers in 2000 and 2004 and individual bronze in 2004 and it was not until Beijing 2008 and the 100m breaststroke final that she would break through for her maiden individual Olympic triumph, in a moment the four-time Olympian considers the defining point in her career.
“I don’t really remember a lot about the race, but I just know the sheer amount of work that went into achieving that one small moment in life,” said Jones.
“It was just a sliver in time, and it took eight years of really pure hard work.”
“I think that’s the moment where everything I had worked for really came true. All I wanted was Olympic gold, that was all I wanted out of my career, and I finally achieved it.
“It is pretty incredible looking back. It was 12 years of really, really hard work.”
“I was so lucky I had the opportunity to do that because so many people don’t get the chance to realise their dreams like that … I am so grateful when I look back on my career, and so glad I realised my dreams.”
“I didn’t give up. I just kept going.”
Jones’ career came to a close following her fourth and final Olympic Games at London 2012, as ‘Lethal’ Leisel left swimming with a staggering 21 gold (including three Olympic gold), 15 silver and six bronze medals across major championships. She twice broke the 100m and 200m breaststroke world records.