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Happy 30th birthday to the Queensland Academy of Sport

31 May 2021

Today, Monday 31 May 2021, marks 30 years since the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) first opened its doors to 35 young athletes across 11 sports to become inaugural scholarship holders, including Susie O’Neill, Kieren Perkins and Steven Bradbury.

This success story, for the QAS and its athletes, kicked off at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games where 30 athletes, including Susie and Kieren, would prove they could well and truly compete with the world’s best. QAS athletes brought home one gold, four silver and five bronze medals from Barcelona. The remarkable achievements of these sporting heroes etched the QAS as an effective and invaluable organisation for fostering successful elite athletes.

The QAS further built on its success in 1996 with 58 of its Olympians and Paralympians winning a phenomenal 32 medals for Australia in Atlanta.

The QAS’s first official headquarters and administrative hub was at Southbank, Brisbane and initially included a sport science laboratory, and later a gymnasium. Inevitably, with success comes growth, so in 1997 a North Queensland branch was opened supporting regional elite athletes in netball, basketball, hockey, soccer, swimming and softball.

In the year 2000 it was time for our QAS athletes to shine again on the world stage, at home, with Sydney hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Of the 450 Australian athletes who competed, 68 were QAS athletes, winning 19 medals; totalling one-third of Australia’s medal tally. Twenty-nine QAS Paralympians competed for Australia, winning a total of 23 medals.

In 2001, QAS’s 10-year anniversary, 10 athletes were awarded ‘Athletes of the Decade 1991-2001’. These included Susie O’Neill (swimming), Kieren Perkins (swimming), Grant Hackett (swimming), Vicki Wilson (netball), Naomi Castle (water polo), Renita Garrard (hockey), Joyce Lester (softball), Katrin Borchert (canoeing), and teams Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst (volleyball), and Andrew Trim and Daniel Collins (canoeing).

At this point, the QAS had built a solid reputation as one of the country’s largest and most successful state sporting institutes. It was providing support to more than 580 Queensland elite athletes across 24 sports, with the addition of rugby league, rugby union and golf.

2004 was a big year for the QAS. The Academy moved to its current home, the Queensland Sport and Athletic Centre (QSAC) at Nathan, Brisbane. The centre, which was constructed for the 1982 Commonwealth Games, was redeveloped into one of the most advanced training facilities in Australia. The centre allowed staff to better serve the changing needs of elite athletes with facilities including a competition-standard athletics track, strength and conditioning gymnasium, state-of-the-art sport science laboratory, and nutrition training centre.

2004 also saw 91 QAS athletes compete for Australia at the Athens Olympic and Paralympic Games, bringing home an extraordinary 60 medals.

It was also the year SPIKE (Sport Performance Innovation and Knowledge Excellence) was introduced as the research hub of the QAS. With an annual budget of $450,000, SPIKE continues to support collaborative high-performance research and innovation with universities and industry. SPIKE currently has more than 25 collaborative projects and postgraduate research students valued at more than $3 million with 10 universities, start-up tech companies and industry partners across Australia.

To date, the QAS’s most successful Olympic Games was in Beijing in 2008 with 68 QAS athletes bringing home eight gold, four silver and 13 bronze medals; 54 per cent of Australia’s total medal tally. It was also in 2008 that a Queensland Government-funded Recovery Centre was opened at QSAC, including a 25-metre pool with underwater viewing capabilities and a wet therapy area.

2009 marked a significant shift for the QAS with a new approach for supporting specific sports and programs. QAS’s primary focus was athletics, canoeing, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, rowing, swimming, triathlon and water polo. Remaining sports were supported through collaborative relationships with state sporting organisations, including baseball, basketball, cricket, diving, football, golf, netball, rugby league, rugby union, sailing, softball, tennis and volleyball.

In 2011, the QAS’s 20th anniversary, saw another decade of extraordinary athletes. Ten athletes were awarded ‘Athletes of the Decade 2001-2011’, including Jodie Henry (swimming), Leisel Jones (swimming), Lisbeth Trickett (swimming), Stephanie Rice (swimming), Duncan Free (rowing), Ken Wallace (kayaking), Chris Scott (AWD cycling), Anna Meares (cycling), Emma Snowsill (triathlon) and Jamie Dwyer (hockey).

The next five years brought with it more Olympic and Paralympic glory at the 2012 and 2016 Games. In 2012, QAS Olympians and Paralympians brought home 33 medals from London, and an impressive 39 medals from Rio in 2016.

The QAS has continued to improve and expand with the introduction of new programs and the commencement of various refurbishment projects. Most recently, the QAS has teamed up with the Australian Olympic Committee to roll out the school-based Olympics Unleashed program. The program sees Queensland athletes visiting classrooms across the state to inspire and motivate students to unleash their sporting passion.

The gym at QSAC is also currently undergoing a $9.8 million refurbishment to create a one-stop-shop for QAS athletes. Stage one of the renovations will include converting the current indoor court into a very large gym with sizeable sections of the exterior wall being replaced with over-sized windows to flood the space with natural light. The gym will also include lifting platforms for para-athletes. The existing, smaller gym will become the centre of the QAS’s scientific work with upgraded biomechanical and physiological testing, a blood lab, and an instrumented running track. These improvements will no doubt give QAS athletes the competitive edge for the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Where to from here? Currently, the QAS is working hard to best prepare their elite athletes for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games (in 2021). With 31 QAS athletes having already made the national team, it’s looking like another prosperous year for the QAS and its sporting heroes.

Happy birthday, QAS!