Louise Sauvage

Alix Louise Sauvage, OAM (born 18 September 1973)[1] is an Australian paralympic wheelchair racer and leading coach.[2]

Louise Sauvage
Personal information
Full nameAlix Louise Sauvage
Born (1973-09-18) 18 September 1973
Perth, Western Australia

Sauvage is often regarded as the most renowned disabled sportswoman in Australia.[3][4] She won nine gold and four silver medals at four Paralympic Games and eleven gold and two silver medals at three IPC Athletics World Championships. She has won four Boston Marathons, and held world records in the 1500 m, 5000 m and 4x100 m and 4x400 m relays. She was Australian Female Athlete of the Year in 1999, and International Female Wheelchair Athlete of the Year in 1999 and 2000. In 2002, her autobiography 'Louise Sauvage: My Story' was published.

Early life

When I first started off I was in the human interest pages of the paper – the fact that I did a sport and the article was about my sport didn't matter – I had a disability and it was warm and fuzzy. It wasn't until I made it to where everyone else was, in the sports pages, where any elite athlete deserves to be, that I thought, 'OK they're taking me seriously now, this is good'.

Louise Sauvage[5]

Sauvage, whose father is from the Seychelles and mother is from Leicestershire, was born with a severe congenital spinal condition called myelomeningocele,[6] which inhibits the function of the lower half of the body, giving limited control over the legs. In 1976 she was Perth's Telethon Child as part of a Channel 7 fund-raiser for children with disabilities.[7] She used calipers to help walk until she received her first wheelchair.[8] Her myelomeningocele required her to have 21 surgical operations by the time she was ten years old.[5] As a preteen, Sauvage suffered scoliosis,[9] and at 14, she had surgery to fix a curvature in her spine,[9][10] using steel rods.[10] The operation was only partially successful, and as an adult, she still has a curve of roughly 49 degrees.[9] She has not had any subsequent surgery to fix the curve in her spine.[9]

Sauvage was born in Perth, Western Australia and grew up in Joondanna, Western Australia, where she attended Hollywood Senior High School before leaving to complete a TAFE course in office and secretarial studies.[7] She underwent 20 operations before the age of 10. Her parents encouraged her to participate in sport from a very young age.[6] She started swimming when she was three years old, with her parents enrolling her in swimming classes to help her build upper body strength.[10] Sauvage started to compete in wheelchair sport at the age of eight. Before that time, she had attempted to play school sport with her classmates but her disability made it difficult.[5] She took up competitive wheelchair racing when she was 15.[10] Sauvage also tried wheelchair basketball as a youngster.[9]

Competitive athletic career

If I had to pick my greatest moment, it would be winning the demonstration event at the 2000 Games and coming back later that evening and having my medal presented to me by Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was head of the IOC. I was on the dais in the No.1 position, and the flag was being raised and the anthem was being played because you're No.1. You have got 110,000 people singing the anthem with you, it's just unbelievable. There was no time to be emotional, I just couldn't stop smiling, it was just awesome.

Louise Sauvage[5]

From the ages of 10 to 13, Sauvage represented Western Australia in the national swim championships. She was forced to retire from swimming when she turned 14, because of surgery.[10]

When Sauvage first started competing in wheelchair racing, the chairs all had four wheels and were similar to the chairs that they used off the track. The chairs did not have any form of steering. The front wheels were smaller than the back wheels, and when at high speed, they were prone to wobbling. By 1997, racing wheelchairs had basically finished undergoing massive changes to improve them.[11]

In 1990, Sauvage competed in her first international competition in Assen, Holland, where she won gold in the 100 m setting a new world record. She also won the 200 m race but was disqualified for moving out of her lane. At the Stoke Mandeville Games in England the same year, Sauvage took gold in the 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, and two relays.[12]

Paralympic Games

Before the start of the 1992 Summer Paralympics, Sauvage held Australian records for the 100 m, 200 m, 800 m, 1500 m and marathon in women's wheelchair racing events. She was being marketed by the Australian Paralympic Federation as Australia's top female wheelchair road racer.[13] At the Barcelona Paralympic Games, he won gold medals in the 100 m, 200 m and 400 m and a silver in the 800 m TW4 events and finished sixth in Marathon TW3-4.[14] In recognition of her athletic feats she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.[2][15] Sauvage was in danger of not going to the 1992 Paralympics because of funding issues for the Australian Paralympic Federation. The Federation made an emergency appeal for funding from the public in order to cover the cost of transporting the Australian team to Barcelona. The Federation found funding through a variety of small donations that allowed Sauvage and other Australian athletes to compete.[16]

At the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, she won four gold medals - 400 m (T53), 800 m (T53), 1500 m (T52-53) and 1500 m (T52-53) and finished fourth in Marathon (T52-53).[14] She won these while having an injured wrist. She set world records in the 1500 m and 5000 m events during these Games.[3] Sauvage won the 5000 m and the 400 m golds only an hour apart.[17] At her final Paralympics in Sydney, 2000, she won two gold medals - 1500 m and 5000 m T54 events and silver medal in 800 m T54.[14]

IPC Athletics World Championships

Savauge competed at three IPC Athletics World Championships. At the 1994 Championships in Berlin, Germany, she won four gold medals in T53 events - 800 m, 1500 m, 5000 m and Marathon.[14] At the 1998 Championships in Birmingham, England, she won six gold medals in 800 m, 1500 m, 5000 m, Marathon - T55 events, 4 × 100 m and 4 × 400 m (T54-55).[14] At her final Championships in 2002 at Lille, France, she won gold medal in 800 m T54 and silver medals in 1500 m and 5000 m T54.[14]

Road racing

1993 was Sauvage's first year on the international wheelchair racing circuit, competing in the US and Europe.[18] It was also the year that she got her first kneeling wheelchair.[11] The pinnacle being the world-famous Boston Marathon where she recorded her first victory, in the women's wheelchair division, in 1997, breaking the stranglehold of the 'Queen of Boston', US racer Jean Driscoll. Sauvage went on to win a further three Boston titles in 1998, 1999 and 2001.[4][18][19] She has won the Los Angeles Marathon, Honolulu Marathon and Berlin Marathon.[20] Sauvage won the prestigious Oz Day 10K Wheelchair Road Race ten times – 1993–1999 and 2001–2003.[21]

Demonstration events

From 1993 to 2001, Sauvage won every IAAF wheelchair demonstration event at IAAF World Athletics Championships.[22] In that same period, she also won the demonstration events for wheelchair racing in the 800 meter race at the Olympic games.[23] The 800 meter event does not require that athletes stay in their lanes after the first turn. For this reason, athletes like Sauvage are required to wear helmets when racing. In 2000, Sauvage won the Olympic demonstration event and was expected to win the Paralympic gold. She was upset by Canadian Chantal Petitclerc.[23] The Australian delegation appealed the result, claiming the race was not fair because another racer, Ireland's Patrice Dockery, was disqualified for leaving her lane too early. The appeal was rejected, because Dockery was too far behind the front runners to impact the results. Sport academics who research the Paralympic Games consider this protest to be pivotal, because it shows the passion of athletes to win and the extent that sports people will go to claim gold. It also highlighted that the rivalries in the sport were real. Petitclerc said of her rivalry with Sauvage that "I dream more about Louise than I do my boyfriend." In 2002, Petitclerc beat Sauvage again at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, where the 800 meter event was a full medal event at the games for the first time. It was only the second time that Sauvage had lost to Petitclerc.[24]

I think I was just so pumped up from the 5000 m, and warm enough, and hearing the anthem for Dave Evans [who had just won the men's 1500 m event] – that was fantastic to hear that in the background.

Louise Sauvage[17]


Sauvagee trained 10 to 14 hours a week when she was actively competing. Her training was very focused, and she attempted to make it fun to help her maintain interest.[22] She often trained six days a week. Her training included boxing, swimming and racing between 25 and 35 km in a single session.[20]

Frank Ponta was one of Sauvage's first coaches and[25] Andrew Dawes was her coach after 1996 Paralympics.[26]

Coaching career

After her retirement from competition, she became involved in coaching young wheelchair athletes,[18] establishing a foundation to help support children with disabilities in 2001.[19] In 2004, Sauvage started coaching other wheelchair athletes. The first athlete that she coached was Angie Ballard. Sauvage's coaching helped Ballard win gold 400 m and silver in the 100 m, 200 m, 800 m and 1500 m at the Summer Down Under Series in 2005.[5]

Sauvage has attended several international competitions as a coach. She was an athletics coach with the Australian team 2008 Beijing Games[27] and 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships. She is currently Wheelchair Track & Road Elite Development Coach at the New South Wales Institute of Sport and coaches Madison de Rozario.


During her retirement from being an athlete, Sauvage created a consulting company that she works for.[6] In 2010, Sauvage was a speaker at the IPC Women in Sport Summit. She spoke alongside Amy Winters and Jayme Paris.[28]

In February 2011, Sauvage participated in the Charter Hall Malabar Magic Ocean Swim. The event was created to raise funds for Rainbow Club. It was Sauvage's first ocean swim. She finished the 1 km race in 25:19.[10]

In 2011, as part of the Australian Centre for Paralympic Studies oral history project of the National Library of Australia, Ian Jobling conducted an extensive interview with Sauvage.[29]

Disability rights

Sauvage and Paul Nunnar lobbied Virgin Blue during 2006 to drop a requirement that people in wheelchairs be accompanied by a carer if they wish to ride on a Virgin Blue aircraft. Previously, both athletes had tried to lobby Qantas to lift a limit of only two electric wheelchairs on domestic flights flying on Boeing 737s. The pair were ineffective because the change would have required a change in law, not in airline policy. Sauvage and Nunnar did receive an invitation to help train Qantas staff and help make staff more aware of the needs of the disabled.[5]


Sport is my life. I have made a career out of it – I am a professional athlete. Living in Australia we are all very sport minded and I cannot see a life without it.

Louise Sauvage[22]

Sauvage was the Australian Paralympian of the Year in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998.[22] She was also the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Athlete of the year in 1997 and in 2001 inducted into the AIS 'Best of the Best'.[30] In 1998, she was a winner of the Australian of the Year Awards in the ABIGGRIUOP National Sports Award category.[22] In 2000, Sauvage was named the Female Athlete of the Year in the Sport Australia Awards.[3] In 2000, she was named the "World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability" at the first Laureus Sports Awards held in Monte Carlo.[4] In 1999 and 2000, she was named the International Female Athlete of the Year.[22] She received an Australian Sports Medal in 2000.[31]

At the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Sauvage lit the cauldron during the opening ceremonies for the games.[4] In 2004, Sauvage carried the Australian flag into the stadium at the 2004 Summer Paralympics.[32]

In 2001, the State Transit Authority named a SuperCat ferry after Sauvage.[19] The Louise Sauvage Pathway, a 6.3-kilometre (3.9 mi) wheelchair-accessible bicycle and walking path within Sydney Olympic Park, is also named in her honour.[33] Sauvage and New South Wales Treasurer Michael Egan christened the park on 6 March 2003.[34] She was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2007.[35] In 2011, she was one of the first people to be inducted into the Australian Paralympian Hall of Fame, along with Frank Ponta and George Bedbrook.[36] In 2012, she was inducted into the International Paralympic Hall of Fame.[37] In 2014, she was inducted into the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame[38] and the Sydney Olympic Park Athletic Centre Path of Champions.[39]

In November 2018, Sauvage was awarded Sport NSW Coach of the Year. Young Athlete of the Year with a Disability.[40] In 2019, Sauvage was made a Legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. She became the first Australian Paralympian to be awarded Legend status.[41]

Several Paralympians cite Sauvage as inspiring them to become athletes, including wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley.[42]


  1. "Louise Sauvage OAM". New South Wales Institute of Sport. Archived from the original on 12 September 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  2. DePauw, Karen P.; Gavron, Susan J. (2005). Disability Sport (Second ed.). Lower Mitcham, Australia: Human Kinetics. p. 93. ISBN 0-7360-4638-0.
  3. International Olympic Committee; Australia. Office of the Status of Women; Australian Sports Commission; Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles; Interactive Arts (1998). Australian women in the Olympic Games : an Olympic journey : the story of women in the Olympic Games. Belconnen, Australian Capital Territory: Australian Sports Commission. p. 4B. OCLC 223055343.
  4. Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (20 October 2000). "Louise Sauvage". Paralympic Village Newspaper. Sydney, New South Wales: Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (10): 5. OCLC 223078790.
  5. Eales, John. "Interview by John Eales: Louise Sauvage". The Age, 15 December 2006: 7.
  6. DePauw, Karen P.; Gavron, Susan J. (2005). Disability Sport (Second ed.). Lower Mitcham, Australia: Human Kinetics. p. 94. ISBN 0-7360-4638-0.
  7. Biography at She's Game, Women making Australian sporting history
  8. Hutchinson, G. (2002). The best Australian sports writing, 2002. Melbourne, Vic: Black Inc. p.64.
  9. Hutchinson, G. (2002). The best Australian sports writing, 2002. Melbourne, Vic: Black Inc. p.65.
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  11. Hutchinson, G. (2002). The best Australian sports writing, 2002. Melbourne, Vic: Black Inc. p.67.
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  13. Australian Paralympic Federation (1992). Barcelona Paralympics 1992 : Australian team members profile handbook. Gelbe, New South Wales: Australian Paralympic Federation. OCLC 221512981.
  14. "Louise SAUVAGE (NSW)". Athletics Australia Historical Results. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  15. "Sauvage, Alix Louise, OAM". It's an Honour. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  16. Australian Paralympic Federation (1996). "Success for Superteam". Golden days of Atlanta : Xth Paralympic Games Atlanta, Georgia, August 15–25, 1996. Sydney: 6. OCLC 222120061.
  17. Louise Sauvage steering WA's Madison de Rozario to Paralympic gold
  18. O'Brien, Jim (2002). "Chief Executive Officer summary". Wheelchair Sports Australia Annual Report 2001–2002. Canberra, Australia: Wheelchair Sports Australia: 7.
  19. Lifestyle choices: A positive approach to healthy living – self-management, diet, exercise. (2005). Balcatta, W. A: R. I. C. Publications.
  20. "Iconic wheelchair road race celebrates '25 years on the road'". Sydney Olympic Park Business Association. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
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  22. Howe, P. David (2008). "Athlete as anthropologist, anthropologist as athlete". The Cultural Politics of the Paralympic Movement. New York: Routledge. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-415-28886-6. OCLC 156891922.
  23. Howe, P. David (2008). "Athlete as anthropologist, anthropologist as athlete". The Cultural Politics of the Paralympic Movement. New York: Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-415-28886-6. OCLC 156891922.
  24. "Paralympian dies". Herald Sun. 3 June 2011. p. 87.
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  26. Media Guide – Beijing 2008 (PDF). Sydney: Australian Paralympic Committee. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2015.
  27. "Annual Report – Australian Paralympic Committee" (2008/2009 ed.). Sydney: Australian Paralympic Committee. 2009: 21. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  28. "Louise Sauvage interviewed by Ian Jobling in the Australian Centre for Paralympic Studies oral history project". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
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  30. "Sauvage, Louise: Australian Sports Medal". It's an Honour. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  31. FREYA, GRANT. "Louise will lead Paralympic team in opening ceremony – Sauvage to fly flag for Australia – Paralympics 2004 – 2 days to go". The Daily Telegraph (n.d.).
  32. Playing for keeps (8 March 2003)
  33. N.A. "NSW: Louise Sauvage helps Egan launch pathway". AAP General News (n.d.).
  34. "Louise Sauvage OAM". Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  35. "Australian Paralympic Hall of Fame". Australian Paralympic Committee. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  36. "IPC Announces Visa Paralympic Hall of Fame Inductees". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  37. "Quartet of stars inducted to Athletics Australia Hall of Fame". Australian Olympic Committee. 24 October 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
  38. "2014 Induction Ceremony". Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre website. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  39. "Fox and Parker Headline NSW Sports Awards Success". Sport NSW website. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  40. "Sauvage 41st legend, Barty wins The Don". Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  41. Habashy, Angela (17 April 2011). "Fearnley's high hopes for Boston debut". Sunday Telegraph. p. 065.
Olympic Games
Preceded by
Naoya Maruyama
Final Paralympic Torchbearer
Sydney 2000
Succeeded by
Muffy Davis and Chris Waddell
Preceded by
Mark Wellman
Final Summer Paralympic Torchbearer
Sydney 2000
Succeeded by
Georgios Toptsis
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