ALIX “LOUISE” SAUVAGE OAM (18 Sep 1973 - )
Louise was born in Perth, Western Australia with a congenital spinal condition called myelomeningocele. By the age of ten she had endured 21 operations.
From an early age her parents encouraged her to participate in sports. She started swimming at three years of age and began competing in wheelchair sports from age eight. At ten she became the youngest ever athlete in the National Senior Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Games in Sydney. At age 15 she took up wheelchair racing – a decision which eventually saw her became one of the world’s greatest in the discipline.
In 1990 Louise competed in her first IPC World Championships in Assen, Netherlands and won gold in the 100 metres in a new world record. Unfortunately she was disqualified for a lane violation in the 200 metres after also crossing the line first. In the same year she won five gold medals at the Stoke Mandeville Games in England.
Louise was awarded a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 1990 which allowed her to train six days a week at the AIS and the NSW Institute of Sport.
Louise was selected for the 1992 Paralympic Games after winning the Nationals. She also won the Swiss titles on her way to Barcelona where she won gold in the 100, 200, and 400 metres and silver in the 800 metres as well as taking sixth in the marathon.
In 1993 Louise won the 800 metres wheelchair event at the IAAF World Athletic Championships athletes in Stuttgart, Germany, beating former world number one Connie Hansen from Denmark.
That same year Louise competed in three marathons finishing fourth in Los Angeles and third in Boston, USA before winning in Melbourne. She was awarded the ABC’s Junior Female Athlete of the Year.
At the 1994 IPC World Championships in Berlin, Germany Louise won four gold medals triumphing in the 800, 1500, 5000 metres and marathon.
In 1995 she was again at the IAAF World Championships, this time in Göteborg, Sweden and won the 800 metres once more in 1.52.60. This time she defeated Canada’s Chantal Petitclerc with whom she would have a great rivalry for the rest of her career. The same year she finished second in the Los Angeles marathon.
Louise competed at her second Paralympic Games in Atlanta, USA in 1996. She won four golds - at 400, 800, 1500 and 5000 metres and just missed the podium in the marathon, finishing fourth. She also continued her major international marathon career and won the Beppu-Oita race in Japan.
Louise a fully professional athlete by now moved to Sydney where she was coached by Andrew Dawes.
In 1997 Louise again won the 800 metres at the IAAF World Championships this time in Athens. She was faster this time with 1.52.11 but was just marginally ahead of Petitclerc and Britain’s Tanni Grey. The year was also good for marathons as Louise finally won the famous Boston marathon and added Los Angeles and Berlin to her collection.
The 1998 IPC World Championships in Birmingham, Britain proved to be the most successful of her career. Louise won six gold medals, including two relays. This time she won the 800, 1500, and 5000 metres, marathon and shared the moment in both the 4x100 and 4x400 metres. The year also delivered another Boston victory, something Louise was able to repeat a year later.
The focus was now on the next Paralympics which would be at home in Sydney. There, after being given the honour of lighting the Games Cauldron, she did fewer events than in the past but did not disappoint herself or her fans - winning gold in the 1500 and 5000 metres and silver in the 800 metres.
The Sydney Olympic Games also provided fond memories for Louise as she was also part of the Torch Relay, her leg involving the crossing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She then won the gold medal over 800 metres at the Games as she had also done in Atlanta four years earlier.
In 2001, Louise was back at the IAAF World Championships - in Edmonton, Canada and again won the 800. She also won the Boston marathon for the fourth time.
At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester she won silver in the 800 metres whilst at the IPC World Championships in Lille, France, Louise won the gold medal at that distance for the third time and took silver in the 1500 and 5000 metres.
She competed for the last time at an IAAF World Championships, in Paris in 2003 and went out with a bang - departing a winner of the 800 metres for the fifth time.
The 2004 Paralympics would be Louise’s last Games and her extraordinary career was acknowledged when she was chosen to carry the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony. She came away from these Games with silver medals in the 400 and 800 metres.
Louise retired from competition and turned to coaching. She was a team coach at the Beijing Paralympics, 2011 IPC Championships and 2014 Commonwealth Games
Louise has received many awards in recognition of her outstanding career including the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993 and the Australian Sports Medal in 2000.
She was Australian Paralympian of the Year in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998; AIS Athlete of the Year in 1997 and 2001, Female Athlete of the Year in 2000 and World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability in 2000 at the first Laureus Sports Awards. In 2005 she was inducted into the NSW Sports Hall of Champions and two years later into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Paul Jenes OAM
Athletics Australia Statistician
Acknowledgements: Australian Women’s Register; Mark Butler - IAAF Statistics Book Moscow 2013; David Clark ed. Australian Sports Almanac 1998; Wikipedia, Brian Roe