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Record 170 named in Paralympics team
By Maria Hawthorne
12:58 AEST Tue Jul 29 2008

Australia will send its biggest travelling team to the Beijing Paralympics in September, with 170 athletes and 121 staff announced on Tuesday.

It's bigger than the combined 230-strong athletes and staff for the Athens Games but still well below the 278 athletes and 157 staff who competed in Sydney in 2000.

Australian Paralympic Committee president Greg Hartung said it was the best prepared and best supported team in Australian history, but would face its toughest test in Beijing.

"You have been selected on the basis of ability, not disability," Hartung told athletes at the team announcement in Parliament House in Canberra.

Of the athletes, 95 will be competing at their first Paralympics and 27 were identified through a federally-funded talent search program.

Hartung said the team had been chosen "with a little bit of an eye towards London (2010)".

"There's a strong chance that a lot of these athletes will be in the London team," he said.

"What could be more exquisite than beating the English on their home ground?"

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, his wife Therese Rein and federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis were made honorary members of the team and were presented with kit bags.

Rudd thanked the team for the honour.

"We promise not to muck up - well, Therese and I do," he said.

Rein's father John spent his life in a wheelchair following a plane crash during World War 2 and was treated at the Stoke Mandeville hospital in England, where the Paralympic movement began.

He carried the Australian flag and competed as an archer at the first international Stoke Mandeville Games in 1952 - the precursor to the Paralympics.

"So for Therese it's a particular honour to be with you. She has a huge family connection in terms of the inspiration which her dad represented in her life as someone who always believed in overcoming the odds," Rudd said.

Rudd said the athletes were extraordinary Australians who had done extraordinary things.

"All Australians are proud of you, all Australians are proud of your achievements in getting to where you have got, and all Australians are proud of what you will do in our collective name in Beijing. So good on ya."

Equestrian team member Grace Bowman, 18, who became a paraplegic in a horse riding accident, said it was an honour to wear the Australian uniform.

"To know that our country is right behind our team while we are competing in China will give all the athletes a tremendous lift," she said.

Wheelchair basketballer Dylan Alcott, a paraplegic since birth, said thoughts of his Year 12 classmates would get him through.

"It's a good feeling knowing that my schoolmates are sitting at their desks, probably in accounting or something, and I get to travel the world and represent Australia," he said.

"When I think it's tough, I'll just think of that."

At 14, athlete Madison De Rozario is the youngest member of the team, while shooter Elizabeth Kosmala, attending her 10th Games at the age of 66, is the oldest.

The team leaves for Beijing on September 1. The opening ceremony is on September 6.

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