December 2023, Articles

Olympic and Paralympic Perspectives: Duane Kale

Our third featured former HPSNZ Olympian or Paralympian, Duane Kale ONZM, has an extremely impressive CV - multiple medal winner in Para swimming at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, Paralympics New Zealand Team Manager for Sydney 2000, Chef de Mission for Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Vice President of the International Paralympics Committee, a member of the IOC 2024 Evaluation Commission, Paralympics New Zealand board member, deputy chair of Sport NZ and HPSNZ.

As a multiple medal winner in Atlanta, Duane’s four golds, a silver and a bronze remain the most successful medal haul of any Kiwi Paralympian to date at a single Paralympics.

He shares his reflections and insights from a long and ongoing career contributing to Para and high performance sport in New Zealand and globally.


Tell us about your Paralympic experiences.


Back in 1996 it was quite different.  Para athletes were amateurs who largely had to fund their own campaigns.  On top of that, the Paralympic Games, although held in the same venues and following the Olympics, was not aligned with the Olympic Games as it is today so we had to do everything from scratch ourselves.  It was run as two completely different events and organising committees.

I’ve heard many people say that Atlanta was a bad experience.  For me, as a 27 year old rookie, it was a stunning experience. I had been in the Para swimming scene for just four years, didn’t know what I was getting into and other than an Oceania/Asia event, had no previous international competition experience.  I had been a non-disabled swimmer and triathlete at a national level and got back into swimming initially as part of my rehab following surgery.

For me Atlanta was great.  We lived right next to the pool so there was none of the hassle of commuting.  The weather was fantastic and I guess I surprised myself with my results – four golds, one silver and one bronze.


Of all the experiences, what was the most memorable one?


The most memorable one was the very big life lesson I learned at the Games and which is still with me today.

I had six events over nine days and will never forget the final day.  Heats in the morning in which I was top qualifier and broke the world record.  I was looking forward to going home with another gold medal beside my name.  Not to be.  My overconfidence resulted in being beaten into silver by the length of a fingernail.  The lesson – my competitor had a greater desire to win whereas I was already focused on having won and heading home.


How does your experience as a Paralympic athlete contribute and help you in your current role with HPSNZ?


My experience as a Paralympian has given me not only a greater understanding of the high performance system and how it embraces all elite sport but also the increasing societal awareness of Para sport.  And that’s in part thanks to the likes of the late Paul Holmes and Chas Toogood who were instrumental in taking Para sport into people’s living rooms.

I am heartened to see the way New Zealanders have embraced Para sport, how perceptions are being changed and barriers broken down.  I truly see a far more inclusive society when we reflect on our HP sporting system and it is a credit to a number of people (current and previous) in HPSNZ.

That’s also reflected in the host cities of Paralympic Games.  For example, Sochi 2014 had a barrier free policy to support Para athletes.  London 2012 resulted in a million more disbled people in employment due to the Games and Tokyo 2020 enacted laws to ensure accommodation providers had wheelchair accessible facilities for travellers into the future.

In Paris, the French Government is spending $1.5billion and the City of Paris $125million to ensure that places of everyday usage are accessible.  These legacy deliverables would not occur had it not been for the Games and the IOC/IPC pushing for improved social outcomes.


If you were to give a current Olympic or Paralympic athlete one piece of advice for their Paris 2024 campaign, what would it be?


You are in for a truly spectacular event, stunning backdrops and for those who had their Paralympic debut in Tokyo you’ll get to experience sports venues with spectators.  Enjoy the whole experience and I wish you the sporting success you have earned.  What you get out of Paris will have far greater implications later, not just in the following 12 months.

Paris is not the end point but rather the start of something much better that will help shape and guide you and your community for the future.