Batt, Di Toro to captain Paralympic team

Luke Costin
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2020 AUSTRALIAN PARALYMPIC CO CAPTAINS

Ryley Batt and Danni Di Toro have been named Australian Paralympic team co-captains for Tokyo

Wheelchair rugby ace Ryley Batt wasn't sure what to make of Kurt Fearnley when the retired Paralympic legend pulled him aside and began rambling about Australian values and team ethos.

"I didn't know if I was in trouble or what was going on," the 30-year-old said on Tuesday.

But Fearnley soon revealed he was anointing the fearless Australian Steelers leader his successor as male captain of the Australian Paralympic team.

"I didn't know whether to believe him or not," Batt, a five-time Paralympian and two-time gold medallist, said.

"Being a Paralympian was enough for me, I never thought of co-captaining a huge Paralympic squad.

"It's still sort of surreal."

Supporting veteran Danni Di Toro at the head of the 180-strong squad in Tokyo in 2020, Batt will also juggling the Steelers' hopes of winning third consecutive Paralympic title.

Hosts and current world champions Japan and the second-ranked United States are expected to be the Australians' biggest threats.

Batt debuted for the Steelers in 2003, aged just 14 and only having started using a wheelchair two years earlier.

Born without legs, he spent his first 12 years travelling on a skateboard until a school visit by a wheelchair rugby player inspired him.

"He's never ceases to amaze me, this kid," father Doug Batt told AAP.

"He's been around the block a few times, learnt a lot as he went and now he's at the pinnacle being the co-captain."

Di Toro, who became a paraplegic when a wall collapsed on her at a high school swimming carnival, was co-captain in Rio in 2016 and next year will be competing at her sixth consecutive Paralympics.

The Rio games were also her first as a para-table tennis player after the former world No.1 wheelchair tennis player left a sport where she'd won two Paralympic medals and 10 Australian Opens.

"The captaincy is a visceral and daily reminder that you're something more than your own performance," she said.

"Rio was one of those beautiful experiences where, (in) watching our athletes perform at that level, I felt more pride about that than the medals or championships I'd won."

Part of the co-captains' charge will be maintaining the team culture that has kept Australia inside the medal tally's top five since Atlanta 1996.

Australia snared 81 medals, including 22 gold, from Rio 2016 - a similar haul to London 2012 and Beijing 2008.

Australian chef de mission Kate McLoughlin said a culture that allows athletes to do their best and see the bigger picture will be key.

"When it comes to victories, we're going to be celebrating all victories whether that's podium performances, athletes coming to their first games or achieving a personal best," she said.

Paralympics Australia chief executive Lynne Anderson said para-athletes were pioneers for inclusion who challenged stereotypes and broke down social barriers.

"Above all else, it's the mental toughness and physical ability of our athletes that redefine boundaries and possibility," she said.

The Paralympics begin in late August, two weeks after the Tokyo Olympics close.