LOUISE (McPAUL) CURREY (24 Jan 1969 - )
Louise McPaul began her athletic career in Little Athletics in Wollongong. As she developed she initially emerged as a talented heptathlete, progressing so well that by 1986, she was selected to compete in the inaugural IAAF World Junior Championships in Athens, Greece. At just 17, she finished a creditable 13th in the seven-event competition with 5,013 points.
From an early age she had been coached by Tony Roberts and competed for her beloved Illawara Blue Stars Athletic Club. Still young enough, Louise competed in her second World Junior Championships two years later in Sudbury, Canada but this time in the javelin as she had injured her knee making the long jump problematic. Indicating little of what was to later emerge, she failed to advance to the final with a throw of 47.94 metres in qualification.
But things began to click and Louise won her first senior Nationals in 1990 with a throw of 57.06m and then retained her title in 1991 with 60.20m. She was progressing rapidly and not surprisingly was selected for the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. There she demonstrated the capacity to produce in big competitions that would become her trademark - throwing 63.34m to finish sixth behind China’s Xu Demei 68.78m. Prior to Tokyo there had been a fourth place with 57.60m at the World University Games in Sheffield, England.
In 1992 Peter Lawler, who had also been a national javelin champion (in 1971), took over Louise’s coaching and her next major international was her first Olympic Games in Barcelona. She threw 60.56m in the qualifying to make another final where she finished 11th with 56.00m.
Louise did not have it all her own way in Australia – developing a serious but friendly rivalry with Queenslander Joanna Stone who beat her in the 1994 nationals with 62.40m to 61.44m. The culture in women’s javelin in Australia was strong at the time and as a result at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada there were three female javelin throwers. Louise showed that she was at home on the biggest stages – dominating the competition from the outset to win with her opening throw of 63.76m. Joanna finished fourth with 57.60m and Kate Farrow sixth with 56.98m.
Louise then travelled to London to represent Oceania at the IAAF World Cup where she threw 59.92m to finish fourth. The following year at the 1995 World Championships in Göteborg, Sweden she narrowly missed the final after a throw of 59.30m, finishing 13th overall.
Her second Olympic team came in 1996 and these Games were destined to deliver Louise her greatest international result. In Atlanta she qualified with 62.32m to make the following day’s final. Heli Rantanen (Finland) opened with a personal best 67.94m which would hold up for the gold medal. However behind the Finn a great battle developed for the minor medals.
Louise moved into second with her opening throw of 61.72m and by the end of round three after launching a throw of 64.18m, she had consolidated this position. But there was no time for complacency as in round five the Cuban pair of Isel Lopez and Xiomara Rivero moved ahead with throws of 64.68m and 64.48m. Then in the final of the six rounds, Norwegian legend Trine Hattestad also swooped past with 64.98m to move into second.
This left the Australian suddenly back in fifth place with Germany’s Karen Forkel with one throw to come after her. Louise rose to the challenge with a magnificent throw of 65.54m to win the silver medal. Just before she threw, television broadcasts showed shots of the Wollongong girl seemingly mesmerised by the Olympic flame burning in the Stadium’s cauldron. Again the athlete had responded when it most mattered.
The next Commonwealth Games for Louise was in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur where she was again in outstanding form and threw a magnificent personal best of 66.96m to win gold and retain her Commonwealth title. Any of her six throws would have won the event.
In January 1999 the IAAF modified the women’s javelin moving the centre of gravity forward - although the 600gm weight remained the same. Louise adapted well to the change and quickly went beyond 60 metres. She was selected for the next World Championships in Seville, Spain. In the southern Spanish city she competed for the first time under a new name, having married fellow javelin thrower and Olympian Andrew Currey in 1998. She threw 64.38m and finished fifth. The downside in Seville was that her javelins were stolen - the Cubans being the prime suspects.
Louise next prepared herself for a third and home Olympics in Sydney and in August threw a new Australian record of 66.80m on the Gold Coast. However disaster struck soon after when she tore her anterior cruciate and medial ligaments in her knee during the Trials. She was still selected for the Games but had now moved from being one of the favourites to potentially not able to compete at all. Louise still believed she could do it and with a heavily strapped knee she still tried to throw and bravely managed 53.32m before fouling her second attempt and passing her third. Not the way she wanted to finish but still fighting all the way.
Louise believed she learned much from her Olympic experiences and was proud and happy about her ability to challenge herself and stand up to adversity.
Hers was an unquestionably magnificent career that saw her win Olympic silver and two Commonwealth golds, be a finalist in two World Championships and a World University Games, collect five national titles and at time of writing remain the national record holder and be ranked 15th on the World All-Time list.
Paul Jenes OAM
Athletics Australia Statistician
Acknowledgements: Paul Jenes & Peter Hamilton – Australian Athletic Results; Mark Butler – Athletics Statistics Book, Olympic Games London 2012; Mark Butler – IAAF World Championships Handbook, Brian Roe