Women to Watch in London 2012: Jessica Gallagher

Your feminist-friendly guide to the women of the Olympics and Paralympics. This week, meet the Paralympian for all seasons…

Country: Australia – Jessica Gallagher is from Geelong in Victoria and trains two hours away from home.

Sport: Long jump and javelin (F13 division). She qualified in long jump, shot-put, 100m sprint, and discus for Beijing in 2008, but was disqualified the day before the Games started when her eyesight was ruled too good to meet the classifying standards.

…officials pointed out that all hope was not lost. Her eyesight was deteriorating. In just weeks it would be bad enough to qualify her for future Games. She had to look forward to that. –

After that, she added slalom skiing to her repertoire and won a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympics despite only having taken up the sport the previous year. She also goes snowboarding in her spare time (no, I don’t know either!).

Likely to win: She won silver in long jump and bronze in the javelin in the IPC Athletics World Champonships last year – so she should be a medal contender in London. If she does win a medal she’ll become the first Australian athlete ever to win medals at both Winter and Summer Paralympics. However, a niggling knee problem – which she is due to have surgery on later in the year – could derail her chances.

Other reasons she’s interesting: Gallagher had played netball and basketball at school and hoped to play professionally, but her deteriorating vision (caused by cone dystrophy) made her realise she needed to focus on new sports, and she contacted the Australian Institute of Sport. At her shot-put trial – the first time she ever picked up a shot-put – she threw the Paralympic qualifying distance. The Australians know a sporting talent when they see it, and quickly snapped her up:

She can pick up many things very fast… She had no technique but so much talent, you show her something and she will learn it quick.

– Uwe Hohn, her javelin coach.

She’s one of the few people to compete in both the Winter and Summer Paralympics – there are only three others at London 2012 – and manages the level of training with aplomb:

I have half as much time as my competitors given I have a Paralympic Games or World Championships every year… planning is a crucial element to my ability to get back into one sport and reach peak potential in the short time frame available.

I’m looking forward to seeing this awesomely multi-talented athlete make some medal-winning distances in London.

Watch her: Sunday 2nd September at 10:05am for the javelin and Friday 7th September at 7:40pm (all times GMT).

If you happen to be in Wales, keep an eye out for her in Cardiff, where the Australian Paralympic team are based before they travel to London. Or, keep up with her on Twitter.


Other Women to Watch and When (all times GMT):

Kylie Grimes (United Kingdom, wheelchair rugby): September 5th at 2 p.m.

Maya Nakanishi (Japan, 100m sprint, 200m sprint, and long jump ““ T44 category):  watch her Saturday 1st September at 9:41 p.m. for Round 1 of the 100m.

Sarah Attar (Saudi Arabia, 800m sprint):  Sarah ran in her heat on the 8th of August: she came last but got a standing ovation from the stadium. Her teammate Wodjan Sheherkani did in fact compete and lost – as expected – but she made history as the first ever woman to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics.

Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi (Malaysia,10m air rifle) came 34th out of 56 is the 10m air rifle, fielding a few silly questions along the way.

Amantle Montsho (Botswana, 400m sprint): won her heat on the 3rd; won her semi-final on the 4th, qualifying for the final with the fifth-fastest time. She came fourth in the final by 0.03 of a second, losing the bronze to US athlete DeeDee Trotter. However, Botswana did win its first-ever Olympic medal courtesy of Nijel Amos who got silver in the men’s 800m.

Katie Taylor (Ireland, boxing): Katie beat the UK’s Natasha Jonas 26-15 to reach the semi-finals, where she took on Tajikistan’s Mazvuna Chorieva, beating her 17-9. She beat Russian Sofia Ochigava 10-8 in the final to lift Ireland’s first gold of this Olympics and the first ever gold for women’s Olympic boxing. Considering what Ireland’s first female Olympian, Maeve Kyle, had to go through,

I actually had objects thrown at me while I was out training. People would come up to the field I trained on and throw things at me…. Ireland really was a dark place back then for any woman in any sport.

We’ve come a long way.

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