Paralympic Team South Africa rocks!
17 September 2008
After South Africa's disappointing performance at the Olympic Games in Beijing, many South African sports fans feared the country's Paralympic team might suffer the same fate. They need not have worried, as the team not only achieved their hoped-for goals, but exceeded them.
South Africa's Paralympians astounded and amazed as they finished sixth in the final medals standings with 21 gold, three silver and six bronze medals. The Rainbow Nation also produced three of the stars of the Beijing Paralympics in Natalie du Toit, Oscar Pistorius and Hilton Langenhoven.
Du Toit bagged five gold medals from five events she entered in the SB9 swimming - and was named the female winner of the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award for the 2008 Games - while Pistorius raced to the treble of 100, 200 and 400 metre titles in the T44 class.
Langenhoven set a new world record when he won the T12 pentathlon, then added a new Paralympic record in winning the long jump, before earning his third gold on Tuesday by taking victory in the 200 metres in 21.94 seconds.
Fanie Lombard set South Africa on the right path on Tuesday when he won the F46 discus by more than two metres with a distance of 46.75 metres. It was the eighth gold medal of Lombard's Paralympic career, which also includes two silver and two bronze medals.
After Lombard's win, Langenhoven - who Lombard called "the story of the Paralympics" - outpaced two Chinese athletes to capture the T12 200 metres.
Ilse Hayes, the winner of the F13 long jump, added a silver medal to her personal haul when she clocked 12.45 seconds in the 100 metres final.
Fanie van der Merwe completed a sprint double in the T37 class when he captured the 200 metres in a new world record 23.84 seconds.
"Blade Runner" Pistorius then brought the curtain down on the track programme in Beijing, obliterating the field to win the T44 400 metres in a new world record time of 47.49 seconds, finishing a massive 3.49 seconds ahead of runner-up Jim Bob Bizzell of the USA.
Ampie Louw, Pistorius' coach, reckoned his charge could have gone even faster, but said a virus Pistorius had been fighting for the past week had taken its toll.
Pistorius didn't want to talk about his illness afterwards. "To have taken part in the very last race of this year's Paralympic Games was an unbelievable honour and a very emotional moment," he said.
"Tonight I didn't run only for myself, but for the whole of South Africa. That is why it was more than important for me to do well. The world has to know that we South Africans are winners."
The men's T54 marathon for wheelchair athletes, the final event of the Games on Wednesday, also produced South Africa's final medal. Ernst van Dyk, winner of a gold medal in hand cycling, added a bronze in the marathon as he finished just one second behind the winner, Kurt Fearnley of Australia.
All that remains in Beijing is the closing ceremony, at which veteran swimmer Tadhg Slattery will carry the South African flag.
Paralympic Team South Africa, throughout the Games in Beijing, have produced one feel-good story after another. No doubt, when they return to South Africa, it will be to a heroes' welcome. They deserve it.
SOUTH AFRICAN MEDAL WINNERS
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