South Africa entered 44 athletes in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which took place from September 7 to September 18. Our team won a total of 17 medals – seven gold, six silver and four bronze. CLAIRE RENCKEN reports
The South African team was made up of athletes who qualified in archery, athletics, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, power-lifting, rowing, swimming, shooting and wheelchair tennis. There were a few that stood out for their outstanding performances.
The first was swimmer Kevin Paul, who won for South Africa its first gold medal at this year’s Games. Paul‚ 25‚ won the SB9 100 m breaststroke event in 1:04:86 seconds to win his second Paralympic gold medal (he won in Beijing eight years ago). In London four years ago‚ Paul had to settle for silver in his keynote event.
Paul‚ formerly of Port Elizabeth but now training in KwaZulu-Natal’s Pinetown with national swimming coach Graham Hill‚ said of his race: “It wasn’t my personal best‚ but tonight was never about time‚ it was about getting into that pool and getting to the 100 m first. I can jump into the pool next week and swim a faster time‚ but it’s not going to get me a Paralympic gold‚” Paul said.
The next athlete to get tongues wagging was our new blade runner – 14-year-old Ntando Mahlangu. He won a silver medal in the men’s T42 200 m final. Mahlangu is a double leg above-the-knee amputee, who only learnt to walk four years ago after deciding to have his legs amputated as, until then, he had spent his life in a wheelchair.
When Team SA arrived back in Johannesburg from the Paralympic Games, it was probably Mahlangu who drew the loudest applause from the well-wishers at OR Tambo International Airport. However, despite the adulation‚ the level-headed high-school pupil still sees himself as “just another kid”.
“This does not change me‚ I am still the same person that I’ve always been‚” Mahlangu said. “I don’t think I am famous or anything like that. I’m still a 14-year-old kid going to school, who is not better than anyone else.”
Another name on everyone’s lips – and not for the first time – was Ernst van Dyk. The veteran hand-cyclist picked up South Africa’s 10th medal in Rio, after winning the cycling road race in a time of 1:37:49. It was van Dyk’s eighth Paralympic medal, in his fifth Games (he is aiming for Tokyo 2020 in the marathon). The 43-year-old has now called time on his Paralympic Cycling career. It was his second career gold, after picking up a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The closing ceremony in Rio was a mixture of joy and sadness, as Brazil handed over the baton for Tokyo 2020. While the night in Rio’s Maracana stadium featured a joyful extravaganza of music and dance, it was tinged with sadness after the tragic death of Iranian para-cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, following a crash in the Saturday’s C4-5 road race. Golbarnezhad is the first Paralympian to have died in the history of the Games.
South Africa’s 17 medallists are as follows:
- Kevin Paul – Swimming – Men’s 100m Breaststroke – SB9
- Hilton Langenhoven – Athletics – Men’s Long Jump – T12
- Charl du Toit – Athletics – Men’s 100m – T37
- Ernst van Dyk – Cycling – Men’s Road Race – H5
- Reinhardt Hamman – Athletics – Men’s Javelin Throw – F38
- Charl du Toit – Athletics – Men’s 400m – T37
- Dyan Buis – Athletics – Men’s 400m – T38
- Ilse Hayes – Athletics – Women’s 100m – T13
- Ntando Mahlangu – Athletics – Men’s 200m – T42
- Anrune Liebenberg – Athetics – Women’s 400m – T47
- Jonathan Ntutu – Athletics – Men’s 100m – T12
- Ilse Hayes – Athletics – Women’s 400m – T13
- Hilton Langenhoven – Athletics – Men’s 200m – T12
- Fanie van der Merwe – Athletics – Men’s 100m – T37
- Tyrone Pillay – Athletics – Men’s Shot Put – T42
- Zanele Situ – Athletics – Women’s Javelin Throw – F54
- Dyan Buis – Athletics – Men’s Long Jump – T38
Leon Fleiser, manager: team preparations and academy systems at SASCOC, and our very own sport columnist, had the following to say about the Games: “I was extremely proud and humbled to lead such a quality team. The Paralympics are the pinnacle for any athlete with a disability and Rio, despite all the media scrutiny before the Games, delivered a spectacle to remember. To the 44 athletes in the team and the wonderful management, coaches and medical personnel, I just want to say a huge thank you – you made my job as the Chef de Mission so easy. A big thank also goes out to the South African public that came out in their thousands to welcome us back in South Africa.
“Special thanks must also go to our Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula, for all his support. He was in Rio to spur us on and was at the airport to welcome us back. Lastly, let’s not forget to mention the sponsors who made it all possible: Nedbank, SASOL, Telkom, National Lotteries Commission, SAA, 361 and the Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa. Without them none of this would have been possible.”