PB on debut for Sarah

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Sydney University Athletics Club members Sarah Clifton-Bligh and her teammate and inspiration Angie Ballard have done the club and Australia proud with their efforts at the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships that have just finished in Paris.

Clifton-Bligh set a personal best mark and club record of 5.26m in the F32 shot put in her debut at the 9th World Championships, while Ballard, who has competed at all nine Championships, had the honour of being co-captain of the Australian team in Paris. She was a torch-bearer at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

The 19-year-old prodigy Clifton-Bligh finished 5th in a strong shot put field.

Ukraine’s Anastasia Moskalenko won gold with a 7.50m mark, with Brazil’s Wanna Broto (6.80m) taking silver and Australia’s Rosemary Little (6.33m) claiming bronze.

An all-rounder, Clifton-Bligh also finished 7th in the final of the 100m T33 and 7th in the 800m T34 final, a classification one up from her T33 classification.

Great Britain athletes made a clean sweep of the medals in the 100m event with Hannah Cockcroft taking gold in 16.81s, from Kare Adenegan (17.82) and Fabienne Andre (19.14).

Clifton-Bligh had finished third in her heat in 22.05 behind Great Britain’s Kare Adenegan (17.17) and the USA’s Eva Houston (19.21) to earn a berth in the final where she came home in 22.75. It was a sterling effort after her 5th in the 100m event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Great Britain’s Hannah Cockroft won gold in the 800m T34 in 1:51.57 from compatriot Kare Adenegan (1:59.62), with the USA’s Eva Houston taking bronze in 2:08.74. Clifton-Bligh placed 7th in 2:36.45.

Meanwhile, the remarkable Ballard, a BSc 2011, BSc(Hons) 2014, and six-time Paralympian, finished 6th in the T53 400m and 4th in the T53 800, events. She joined SUAC as part of Elite Athlete Program in 2002 moving from Canberra to study a B.Science and trained with Louise Sauvage.

Sauvage is Clifton-Bligh’s coach. “She is a role model not just as an athlete and a coach but as a person,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald’s Angus Thomson last year on her selection in the Commonwealth Games team. “It’s also how much she gives back to the sport. She is there every Saturday morning at 8am pushing us all to do better, rain, hail or shine. So she’s more than just a coach, she’s as a role model for life.”

The pair go back a long way. Sauvage has had a hand in Clifton-Bligh’s development since she took up wheelchair athletics as a10-year-old after major surgery to her legs. “Her improvement has been out of sight,” she told Thomson. “Her ability to get stronger and faster on the track has just been fantastic – the sky’s the limits.”

Clifton-Bligh now has her sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Paris and 2032 Brisbane Paralympics.