10 September 2012
Team South Africa excelled at the London Paralympics, picking up 29 medals – eight gold, 12 silver and nine bronze – to finish in 18th place on the medal standings at a Games that may have shifted forever the perception of Paralympic sport.
Few could have predicted the massive rise in standards at this year’s Games. An amazing 251 world records were broken in just 11 days. More spectators than ever before, 2.7-million, watched the Paralympics live.
“I think it’s been an absolute triumph from start to finish,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Oscar Pistorius, one of the faces of the Games, who appeared on Time Magazine’s List of the 100 Most Influential People in the World earlier in the year, told reporters: “I think people are going to look back at this Paralympic Games and for the first time really, truly believe that Paralympic sport is not just inspirational, it’s hard-core sport.”
He added: “I think it’s really left millions of people following and seeing Paralympic sport for what it is, and that’s elite sport with athletes that just happen to have disabilities.”
Pistorius has played a massive role in promoting Paralympic sport. His long fight to be able to compete against able-bodied athletes opened up the future for athletes with disabilities. And he showed in the London Olympics that his was not a token presence by reaching the semi-finals of the 400 metres.
The London Paralympics also brought the curtain down on the storied career of Natalie du Toit. Like Pistorius, she was a trail blazer for Paralympians everywhere, setting a standard for others to aspire to.
Before her first Paralympics in Athens, she became the first ever athlete with a disability to qualify for the final of a race in a major event when she contested the 800 metres freestyle at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
She contested the 10km open water swimming event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after finishing fourth in the World Open Water Swimming Championships in Seville in May, 2008.
At both the Athens and Beijing Paralympics, she captured five gold medals. Only in London, in the twilight of her career and admittedly not in her best form, was she finally beaten.
SA’s most successful Paralympian ever
Still, she walked away with three gold medals and a silver medal, making her not only the most successful South African athlete at the 2012 Paralympics, but the most successful South African Paralympian of all time with 13 gold and two silver medals.
Underlining just how much impact South African athletes with disabilities have had is the following fact: since 2006, three South Africans have won the Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year Award at the Laureus Sports Awards.
Ernst van Dyk, a nine time winner of the Boston Marathon and a silver medallist in the hand cycling road race in London, received the honour in 2006. Du Toit won it in 2010 and Pistorius received it this year.
As much as the outstanding achievements of the big name athletes stand out, so too does a story that emerged from the volunteers that assisted the various teams in London. Team South Africa, they said, was the best assignment.
They said the team involved them in everything they did, gave them tickets when they didn’t need them, and made them part of the South African delegation.
One volunteer was quoted by the South African Press Association (Sapa) as saying: “I love it. I want to be South African, that’s how much I love it, and I’m going to cry when it’s over because I don’t want to go back to work.”
It’s that kind of heart-warming sentiment that makes one proud to be a South African; not only did Team South Africa’s Paralympians inspire and excel with their performances, they represented the country with pride and distinction away from the arenas of competition too.
So, with the London Paralympics over, think not only of the big name stars of Team South Africa, but also of those who didn’t claim a medal, but wore the green and gold with pride and achieved excellence in the manner in which they represented the country, you and I.
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