Quick Facts

How acquired
Physical Impairment – Cerebral Palsy
Date of Birth
May 21, 1994
Croydon Hills, VIC
Started Competing
First Competed for Australia
Games Experience

London 2012, Rio 2016


Cadel Evans, Matt Cowdrey

Career Highlights

Winning gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay at London 2012

Greatest Moment

Geoff Huegill’s comeback to win gold at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games


Despite only having burst onto the scene shortly prior to London, Matt Haanappel proved he had his sights set for the top of Paralympic sport when at his first Paralympic Games, he achieved his dream of winning gold as part of the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team. And if gold wasn’t enough, the then 18-year-old helped the medley relay team to a bronze medal to finish his debut Games campaign.

While he didn’t win an individual medal in London, Matt performed strongly in the 100m freestyle and backstroke, finishing fifth in both races, finished sixth in the 50m freestyle and seventh in the 200m individual medley.

With promising performances in the lead up to the Games, including three gold medals, two silver and three bronze medals at the 2011 National Underage Championships and silver in the 50m butterfly at the 2010 German Nationals, and a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships – his first adult individual medal and a career highlight, Matt’s form is looking strong ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Born with cerebral palsy due to a prenatal stroke at 20 weeks, Matt learnt to swim at a young age as part of his rehabilitation. While he had a natural affinity to the water, it wasn’t until 2005 that Matt found a coach who had previously worked with stroke victims and who understood disability sport.  Matt began competing that year, and in 2008, he took part in his first multi-class race, where he was selected for his first Pacific School Games. Inspired by a Games year, Matt worked hard on his speed and placed his focus on making the 2012 Australian Paralympic Team.

Having dedicated so much time to his sport in the four years prior to London 2012, Matt acquired a shoulder injury which was not diagnosed until 2014. Causing him pain and slowing him in the pool, Matt made the agonising decision to have surgery in September 2014, which took him out of contention for both the 2015 Australian Swimming Championships and the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships.

Matt contested at the 2016 Australian Paralympic Swimming Team trials, and was selected to the national squad and listed as an emergency for the 2016 Paralympic Team. He was called up for formal selection in August and went to his second Games to compete in five events.

He placed sixth in the 4 x 50m freestyle relay, sixth in the 100m freestyle and fifth in the 50m freestyle. He also competed in the 400m freestyle and 100m backstroke but did not qualify for the finals.

Coming from a strong family of athletes, Matt is proud to call 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans his cousin and turns to him for advice. Matt credits Cadel with preparing him mentally for the work that goes into being a Paralympian and for teaching him how to handle media.

Outside of swimming, Matt is studying sports management at the University of Canberra and hopes to one day work in high performance sport. He is also an ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Education Centre, a cause which is close to his heart. He believes the Centre is the reason he can walk and talk and has gone on to reach his potential.

Matt’s ultimate goal in to be the best he can be. While he will aim for gold at Rio 2016, he will be happy with his results so long as he has put in the hard work and performed at his peak.

Sports & Disciplines

  • Sport: Swimming Disciplines: 50m freestyle Classification: S6
  • Sport: Swimming Disciplines: 100m freestyle Classification: S6
  • Sport: Swimming Disciplines: 400m freestyle Classification: S6
  • Sport: Swimming Disciplines: 100m backstroke Classification: S6
  • Sport: Swimming Disciplines: 4x100m freestyle relay Classification: S6
  • Sport: Swimming Disciplines: 4x50m freestyle relay Classification: S6