• Ellis Gelios

Passion for Paralympics shines through for coach Chris Nunn

Chris Nunn’s career as one of the most recognisable public faces in Australia’s Paralympics community has reached extraordinary heights.

Chris Nunn (right) works with athletes in Pacific Island nations to prepare them for Paralympic competition

Born in Maffra, a Victorian town in the Shire of Wellington before moving to a farm near Myponga in South Australia, Nunn got his first taste of big stage competition in Brisbane at the 1982 Commonwealth Games before retiring in 1989.

He dabbled in coaching during his athletics career, most notably in the lead-up to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and this would underpin his ascent in athletics in Australia over the next three decades.

He became the Head Coach of Australia’s Paralympics program at the AIS in 1996 and in doing so became the first-ever full-time Paralympics coach in the world.

In 1998 he was recognised as the Australian Paralympics Coach of the year and also took out the Confederation of Australian Sport Dawn Fraser Award before receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2002. Nunn oversaw four successive Paralympic Games from 1988 to 2000 as a coach and was the head coach in Sydney in 2000.

Under his tutelage, the Australian athletics team won 35 gold, 15 silver, and 16 bronze medals at the 2000 games in Sydney. Later in 2009, Nunn re-entered the Paralympics world when he was appointed as high-performance manager of the Australian Paralympic Committee.

He is currently employed as a project coordinator with the Oceania Paralympic Committee, where he is charged with overseeing the development of several countries in the Pacific region endeavoring to enter the international Paralympics movement.

Speaking on Flow FM’s Sports Fix earlier, Nunn didn’t mince his words when describing the nature of the challenges some Oceania-based nations are faced with when it comes to competing on the international stage.

“I’ve been working for a decade with seven of the Pacific Island group of countries and five of those could not even afford to go to the [2021 Paralympic] games," said Nunn.
"We have athletes that would’ve made finals, we have athletes that may have potentially gone close to medals – they sat at home.
“We’re in a period of reflection now and certainly, the games did highlight the difference between having money and not having money and also what focus was put around the money that was available.”

This year’s showpiece Paralympics event in Tokyo was also a bone of contention for the 62-year old. Nunn was compelled by a moral obligation not to attend his first Paralympics event this year despite having attended all but one of the ‘Games of the Paralympiad’ since 1984.

“For two reasons I chose not to go to the games, first of all – the athletes and coaches I’d been working with in the islands were not going to be there, so I would’ve felt like one of the entitled few to go to the games knowing people who were out training on a regular basis weren’t even able to go to the games.”

Nunn also referenced a need to be home with his family at a time when he was expecting a grandchild.

“Secondly, I think we might be underestimating the impact on families that covid has had...I’ve got a family of four of my own children, I’ve got grandchildren, I would’ve been missing birthdays which happens every time I go to the games and we’re also expecting another grandchild any day.”

When recounting some of the most memorable moments he’s experienced across his career in high performance, Nunn singled out the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney as a historically significant event that propelled Paralympic sport into the international limelight.

“In my view of being to eight different games, that was the landmark event for Paralympic acceptance around the world.”
“The Australians embraced the para-athletes, it was highly emotive, but we showed the athletes if they turned up and fought like athletes, the coaching and support structures around them would treat them like athletes which was a very different mindset to 10 years beforehand...all the teams around the world used to travel as disability groups.”