Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Rizzo Rolls past Royalty | Samuel Rizzo Shatters Kurt Fearnley’s Record

Published Fri 15 Mar 2024

As Kurt Fearnley stole the show in his farewell race at the home Commonwealth Games of 2018, a lesser-known 17-year-old trailed his idol for sixth place at his senior Australian debut. Now 23, Samuel Rizzo just carved close to four seconds off the Paralympic legend’s national record to qualify for his maiden Paralympic Games.

An icon of Australian sport and three-time Paralympic champion, Fearnley’s 2:54.75 personal best in the 1500m T54 had stood since 2012. The mark is one that Rizzo has long been aware of but only recently conquered, first by a little and then by a lot with a push of 2:50.84 at the Dubai 2024 World Para Athletics Grand Prix.

“It first came as a bit of a shock to be honest, to get so close to his time at the Paris World Championships last year. After that, I made it my goal to focus on it and it has been a really proud moment. I’m stoked to be the first one to get it, it was such a longstanding record,” Rizzo said.

“Kurt is Kurt, you know! He’s been around for a very long time, even me as a kid getting into the sport, he introduced himself and was one of my mentors.”

Inspired by the likes of Fearnley and his coach, fellow Paralympic champion Richard Colman, the breakthrough performance saw Rizzo nail his first Paralympic A qualifier – bringing his dream of a Paralympic debut in Paris one stage closer to reality.

“I have been with Richard since around 2012, after I met him in 2008 at a spina bifida family camp at Phillip Island where he was there giving a bit of a talk about athletics. Later that year I watched him win a medal at the Beijing Paralmypic Games, and it became what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Rizzo said.

The 23-year-old has already been selected to represent Australia at the 2024 World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe, Japan this May in the 800m T54 and 1500m T54 – quickly amassing international experience that could see him one day leave a legacy of his own.

“I want to help the next group of kids coming through in the same way that Richard Colman and Kurt Fearnley helped me, because if I wasn’t doing this sport, I’m sure my life would look completely different,” Rizzo said.

“If I could have half the name of Kurt Fearnley or Richard Colman, and their legacies – I would be a pretty happy man! One step at a time though.”

With Rizzo’s first senior Australian appearance coming at Fearnley’s farewell on the Gold Coast for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the rising talent has well and truly picked up the baton as part of Australia’s wheelchair racing contingent headed by Madison de Rozario – with no plans of slowing down despite surpassing his idol on the clock.

“My first senior team was his final one and we were in the same race, which was really special as a 17-year-old. I have fond memories of being in the pack and trying to keep up, but it was really cool when I was first starting out to have his farewell as my first one,” Rizzo said.

“For me it’s just been about consistency in training and growing with the sport. Each year you progress naturally, and this is where I’m up to at the moment.”

An astute competitor who is always on the move and learning from his international rivals, Rizzo plans on continuing his rise through the ranks on the world stage, with the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games at the forefront of his mind.

“Anything is possible, hopefully it will be my first Paralympics which has been a long-term goal of mine. I’d be pretty stoked to make a few finals, but I will prepare the best way I can and give it my best shot,” Rizzo said.

“There’s a definitely love for the sport in what I do. Off the track I always look into races that are around, who is doing what, and being excited about other people’s success.”

Rizzo will contest the 800m T54 and 1500m T54 as part of Australia’s 20-strong team for the 2024 World Para Athletics Championships, with more information available HERE.

By Lachlan Moorhouse, Athletics Australia
Posted: 15/3/2023