Australian Paralympic swimming great Matthew Cowdrey announces retirement

10/02/2015 by Steve Knowles


Australia’s most successful Paralympian Matthew Cowdrey has today announced his retirement from competitive swimming.

At just 26-years-of-age Cowdrey has a long list of achievements and a medal collection many would envy. He boasts  a total of 23 Paralympic medals from three Paralympic Games (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012), 13 of which are gold, as well as 16 IPC World Championship titles and an outstanding 13 world records.

Cowdrey, who was born with a congenital amputation to his lower left arm, started swimming at just five years of age and it wasn’t long until he was breaking age group records, Australian records and then world records in his S9 Classification.

He made his first Paralympic team at just 15-years-old at Athens in 2004 where he won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals on Paralympic debut. From here he went on to compete in two more Paralympic Games; Beijing 2008, where he won five gold and three silver and most recently London where he created history winning a further five gold, two silver and one bronze medal.

His five gold medal haul in London took his overall Paralympic Games gold total to 13 making him Australia’s most successful Paralympian ever, eclipsing Tim Sullivan’s previous record of 10 gold medals from three Games.

He also passed Australian swimmer Kingsley Bugarin’s overall medal haul of 19 medals, with a total of 23 Paralympic medals.

Speaking of his decision to leave the sport, Cowdrey said he had set new goals outside the pool.

“During my career I have always had a clear vision of where I was going and what I wanted to achieve in and out of the pool, over the past few months I have come to the realisation that the majority of my goals sit outside of the pool, and for these reasons I have made the tough decision to retire from competitive swimming,” Cowdrey said.

“I have been fortunate to have achieved more than I could ever have dreamed of, and more than I set out to achieve, and more importantly I have enjoyed every minute of my time on the Australian swim team.”

“I would like to thank my family, and in particular my parents, my long-time coach Peter Bishop, my sponsors UNCLE TOBYS, Speedo and Mazda, all members past and present of the Australian Swim Team and Swimming Australia Staff, the Australian Paralympic Committee, the South Australian Sports Institute, the AIS, and Norwood and Marion Swim clubs.”

“What has made the decision so much easier has been the strength I see within Swimming Australia, and the current swimmers leadership teams across the able bodied and Paralympic squads. I leave Australian Swimming in a strong and promising position, and look forward to supporting from the sidelines through to 2016 and beyond.”

Cowdrey’s long-time coach, who oversaw the Paralympic legend since he was eleven-years-old, Peter Bishop said he will be a sorely missed member of the Marion squad at the SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre in Adelaide.

“I’m very proud of what Matt has achieved over three Paralympics and it has been an absolute pleasure working with Matt throughout his career. His ability to overcome any obstacles put in his path, and his tenacity to stay committed to his dreams is unrivalled. I’ve learnt a lot from Matt over the years and he will be a sorely missed leader of Marion Swim Club team mates,” Bishop said.

Former Paralympic Head Coach and now Aquatics Manager and Head Coach at Genesis Christian College, Brendan Keogh said Cowdrey took the profile of Paralympic swimming to another level.

“Matt led by example, set his goals and expectations for himself extremely high and then carried out the process of achieving those goals in the most professional manner. He took the Paralympic Swimming world by storm and through his performances and leadership raised the standard and profile of the sport within Australia and on the international stage,” Keogh said.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experience of seeing Matt's international swimming career first-hand, from his first tour as a 12 year old to Berlin in 2002, to the 3 Gold in Athens, the 5 Gold in Beijing and then 5 Gold in London. I congratulate Matt on an amazing career and wish him every success in the future.”

In 2008 Cowdrey was also given the honour of Australian Flag Bearer, carrying the Australian flag at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Swimming Australia’s Paralympic Performance Manager Adam Pine said Cowdrey’s dedication to the sport and leadership skills were admirable.

“Matt has been an integral part of the Paralympic Swim team for a number of years and his dedication to excellence and drive for success is second to none,” Pine said.

In addition to his success his leadership skills and passion for the sport of swimming is admirable and I wish him all the best in now channelling that passion into his career and life after swimming. I have no doubt his achievements and what he and his coach Peter Bishop have done for Paralympic swimming in Australia will inspire others for generations to come.”

Just last year Cowdrey competed in his third Commonwealth Games, winning silver in the 100m freestyle and his second Para Pan Pacific Championships where he picked up silver in the 50m freestyle and bronze in the 100m free.

In October 2014, Cowdrey was also among the first Paralympic swimmers to receive a plaque on the Path of Champions at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre alongside Jacqui Freney and Siobhan Paton.

Swimming Australia Chief Executive Officer Mark Anderson said Cowdrey’s contribution to the sport would live on for years to come.

“Matt’s achievements and success across three Paralympics and three Commonwealth Games demonstrate his outstanding talent, dedication and perseverance as an athlete.

In addition to his many triumphs in the pool, Matt will be remembered by all Australians as an ambassador of swimming and Paralympic sport in our country. We wish him continued success in the next phase of his life and thank him for his contributions to swimming,” Anderson said.

After completing a Law degree, Cowdrey is currently working full time at KPMG and we wish him all the best for his future endeavours.

Representative Honours and Results
Matthew Cowdrey OAM, Date of Birth:  22/12/1988

Paralympic Games
2012, London, England - Gold: 100m back, 100m free, 50m free, 200m individual medley, 4x100m free relay  Silver: 100m breaststroke, 100m butterfly Bronze: 4x100m medley relay
2008 Beijing, China - Gold: 50m free, 100m free, 100m back, 200m IM, 4x100m medley Silver: 400m free, 100m fly, 4x100m free 
2004 Athens, Greece - Gold: 100m free, 200m IM, 4x100m medley Silver: 100m fly Bronze: 50m free, 400m free

IPC World Championships
2013 Barcelona, Spain - Gold: 100m freestyle, 50m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle relay, Bronze: 100m butterfly 4th 4x100m medley relay
2010 Eindhoven, Netherlands - Gold: 200m IM, 100m free, 50m free, 100m back,  4x100m free Silver: 100m fly
2006 Durban, South Africa - Gold: 50m free, 100m free, 100m fly, 200m IM, 4x100m medley Silver: 400m free, 100m back, 4x100m free

Commonwealth Games
2014 Glasgow, Scotland - Silver: 100m freestyle
2010 Delhi, India - Gold: 50m free, 4th 100m free
2006 Melbourne, Australia - Gold: 50m free, 100m free

Para Pan Pacific Championships
2011 - Edmonton, Canada - Gold: 50m free, 100m free, 100m fly, 200m IM Silver: 100m breast
2014 - Pasadena, California - Silver: 50m freestyle, Bronze: 100m freestyle