Clifton-Bligh off to World Championships

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Sydney University Athletics Club member Sarah Clifton-Bligh has been named in a 20-strong Australian team to compete at the World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe, Japan, from 17-25 May.

Clifton-Bligh will contest the women’s 100m and 800m wheelchair events and the shot put.

The 11th edition of the Para Athletics World Championships, to be held at the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium, will include over 1000 athletes from more than 100 nations competing in 171 medal events (93 male, 77 female and one mixed).

As the Paris Paralympic Games draw near, the Australian athletes will be using the Kobe carnival as a litmus test to secure crucial qualification spots for the 2024 Games.

“The World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe represents a pivotal moment for our athletes as they gear up for the ultimate challenge in Paris,” Athletics Australia General Manager – High Performance, Andrew Faichney said.

“Each of these athletes selected has shown promise to either achieve medals at the Paralympic Games or contribute to our allocation of quota positions, and we have every faith in these athletes that it will further ignite the fire in their belly to compete at their best and do the country proud.”

Clifton-Bligh was in the Australian team at the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris where the team finished with three gold, eight silver and three bronze medals. She made her senior Australian debut at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games while still a teenager. She placed fifth in the 100m in a time of 22.71 seconds and lowered that with a number of sub-22 times the following year. She also set a personal best and a club record of 5.26m in the F32 shot put at the Paris World Championships.

Born and raised in Sydney, Clifton-Bligh has been living with cerebral palsy since birth. The condition causes her to suffer from severe co-ordination impairment in all four of her limbs and trunk, but this hasn’t stopped her from pursuing a successful sporting career. She competes in the official Paralympic classification ‘T/F32’, which means she is matched against other athletes who also suffer from a similar condition.

Her sporting career began when she showed signs of natural talent at the Year 5 school athletics carnival, particularly in the 100m track, shot put, and discuss events. After demonstrating promising ability, she was lent a proper athletics wheelchair, which was actually once also borrowed by Paralympians Kurt Fearnely and Sydney University’s Angie Ballard. This initial brush with fame was almost an omen of things to come and a few years later she was selected in the NSW Junior Wheelchair development squad.

Legendary Australian para athlete Louise Sauvage has played a role in Clifton-Bligh’s athletic development since those junior days. “She is a role model not just as an athlete and a coach but as a person,” Clifton-Bligh told the Sydney Morning Herald’s Angus Thomson after her selection in the 2022 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.”

Clifton-Bligh has her sights set on big performances in Kobe to qualify for the Paris Games and, looking further ahead, the 2032 Brisbane Paralympics.