Sarah Ryan competed in the 50 and 100 metres freestyle events at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, with a best placing of sixth in Atlanta. As a relay swimmer, she collected three medals in her Olympic career. At Atlanta she anchored Nicole Stevenson (Livingstone), Sam Riley and Susie O'Neill to the silver medal in the medley relay behind the United States. She was in the sixth-placed 4 x 100 metres relay teams in Atlanta and Sydney.
Sydney saw her swim the freestyle leg in the heat of the medley relay before Dyana Calub, Leisel Jones, Petria Thomas and O'Neill finished second behind the Americans. At her last Olympics at Athens 2004, she swam in the heat of the 4 x 100 metres relay before Alice Mills, Libby Lenton (Trickett), Petria Thomas and Jodie Henry won the gold medal for Australia for the first time since the Dawn Fraser-led team won at Melbourne 1956.
Ryan's first medal at the World Championships was a bronze in the 4 x 100 metres relay in 1998 before claiming a gold in the medley relay in 2001.