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Pressure off for young Aussie Para team

NZN 6/09/2016 Lucy Hughes Jones

Australia's Paralympic team leaders don't want their athletes to choke like the Olympians did, so they're removing the pressure altogether.

The able-bodied team's medal haul in Rio was the lowest since 1992, as fancies flopped, world record holders fell apart and defending champions disappointed.

While Paralympic Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin has set a goal of a top-five seat on the medal table, she doesn't want that to be the focus for her competitors - half of which are rookies.

Co-skippers Kurt Fearnley and Daniela Di Toro couldn't agree more.

"When I'm looking at a 14 or 15-year-old kid, I don't give a shit what they bring home," said Fearnley, who is competing at his fifth Games.

"I hope it's a gold, I hope it's a medal, but I look at them now and they don't change in a week's time."

Six-time Paralympian Di Toro has also been driving a culture of support, and says the Games are about more than medals.

"This is my family and it's been my family since I've been 13 years old," she said.

"Medals are a nice bit of bling that's the cherry on the cake but at the end of the day, this is a life that people have worked towards and it is so much bigger than just the result."

The Aussie team has achieved a top-five finish at every Games since Barcelona in 1992, but was close to slipping outside that mark four years ago in London.

Despite Fearnley's relaxed attitude, he and the athletics team will play a big part in Australia's bold bid for 40 gold medals.

The veteran hopes to end his Paralympic career with a third gold in the men's marathon.

And there's more potential gold from world record-holding sprinters Isis Holt and Evan O'Hanlon, defending shot put champion Todd Hodgetts and world champion wheelchair racers Angie Ballard and Madison de Rozario.

Gold could come from a wide range of sports, including para-triathlon and para-canoe, which will be contested for the first time.

Five-time para-triathlon world champion Bill Chaffey and world championship medallist Katie Kelly, whose guide is Olympic silver medallist Michellie Jones, look destined for the podium.

War veteran and para-canoe world champion Curtis McGrath is also chasing gold.

Reigning Paralympic and world champions Ellie Cole and Brenden Hall will lead Australia in the pool, while 14-year old breaststroke world champion Tiffany Thomas-Kane will make her debut.

Flag bearer Brad Ness and his world champion men's wheelchair basketball team are out to exact revenge for a near miss at gold in London.

The men's wheelchair rugby team are hoping to extend their golden reign, while sailors Liesl Tesch and Daniel Fitzgibbon are also looking to defend their 2012 title.

And defending shooting champion Natalie Smith is a firm favourite to get Australia's campaign off to a golden start on the first day of competition on Thursday.


* 177 athletes competing across 16 sports

* Aiming for a top-five finish - that means at least 40 gold medals

* Has placed in the top five at every games since Barcelona in 1992

* Was only a few medals short of slipping outside the top five at the 2012 London games

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