South Africa at the Paralympic Games


    23 August 2012

    Did you know that Natalie du Toit was the first person in history to carry her country’s flag at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games? And that South African Paralympians have won over 100 gold medals – an astonishing 21 of these in Beijing in 2008? Find out more about Team SA at the Paralympics.

    The Stoke Mandeville Games

    South Africa made its first appearance at the Summer Paralympic Games, then known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, in Tokyo in 1964. Those Games are now recognised as the second edition of the Paralympics.

    At that time, the Stoke Mandeville Games concentrated on events for wheelchair-bound athletes. Competition for athletes with other disabilities would follow at later editions of the Paralympics.

    Interestingly, in 1964 South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games because of its apartheid policies, but its athletes continued competing at the Paralympics for another 12 years after that. The ban was extended thereafter, however, and South African Paralympians missed the Games of 1980, 1984 and 1988.

    Tokyo 1964

    In 1964, only nine different sports were contested in Tokyo with just 375 athletes taking part. South African athletes performed well, finishing sixth on the medal table, with eight gold, eight silver and three bronze medals.

    The United States finished in first place, with 50 gold medals, 41 silver medals and 32 bronze medals, for a total of 123 medals in all. Great Britain, with 18 gold, 23 silver, and 20 bronze medals for a total of 61 medals, placed second.

    Daniel Erasmus was the star of the show for the South Africa, winning medals in all four events he entered, with golds in the shot put and discus and silver medals in the club throw and javelin.

    Tel Aviv 1968

    The 1964 Games were, until the 1988 Paralympics, the last Paralympic Games to be held in the same city as the Olympics, so, while Mexico City hosted the Olympics in 1968, Tel Aviv was the venue for the Paralympics. At the time, they were known as the 17th International Stoke Mandeville Games.

    The numbers at the 1968 Paralympics doubled from 375 to 750 athletes. Once again South Africa performed well, winning 26 medals, nine of them gold. They also claimed silvers, and seven bronze medals to end in 10th place in the medal count.

    Daniel Erasmus repeated his feat of four years earlier in Tokyo by winning two gold medals and two silvers in athletics. This time around, he was crowned champion in the shot put and javelin and runner-up in the club throw and discus. He also added a gold medal in the men’s singles in lawn bowls and claimed a silver medal in the pairs.

    Maragaret Harriman, who had previously represented Rhodesia with great success, claiming five gold medals, one silver and two bronze medals in the previous two Paralympics, won two gold medals in archery.

    The USA topped the medal table with 33, 27, and 39 for a total of 99 medals in all. Great Britain, with 29, 20 and 20 for a tally of 69 medals placed second, with hosts, Israel, in third.

    Heidelberg 1972

    Heidelberg, Germany, hosted the 1972 Summer Paralympics as the total number of competitors rose to just over 1 000. As had been the case with previous Paralympics, they were intended for wheelchair athletes only, but demonstration events were held for athletes with other disabilities. Eleven sports, with goalball being a demonstration event, were contested.

    South Africa excelled, finishing fourth on the medal table, the highest finish the country has ever achieved in the Paralympics. It produced 16 champions, 12 runners-up, and 13 bronze medallists for a total of 41 medals, which remains the highest number of medals the country has won at the Paralympics to this day.

    Swimming proved to be the team’s strongest suit as it picked up 18 medals, including eight golds. Athletics was a close second with 17 medals, including five golds.

    West Germany displaced the Americans from the top of the medal table, thanks to their 28 Paralympic champions. They added 17 silver and 22 bronze medals for a total of 67 in all. The USA, however, won the most medals, 74, with 17 gold, 27 silver and 30 bronze medals.

    Third placed Great Britain, like South Africa, won 16 gold medals. They added 15 silver and 21 bronze medals for a haul of 52 medals in all.

    Toronto 1976

    While Montreal, Canada, hosted the 1976 Olympic Games, Toronto was the venue for the Paralympics, which featured 1 657 competitors. They were to be South Africa’s last Paralympics until Barcelona in 1992.

    From the highs of 1972, when the country finished fourth, South Africa plunged down to 19th place in 1976, winning 26 medals and producing only six Paralympic champions to go with nine silver and 11 bronze medals. Fourteen of the medals were won in athletics.

    Competing close to home, the Americans dominated the Games, capturing 66 gold, 44 silver and 45 bronze medals for a total of 155 medals in all. The Netherlands finished in second place with 45 gold, 25 silver, and 14 bronze medals for a total of 84, with Israel taking third spot thanks to a return of 40 gold, 13 silver, and 16 bronze medals and a tally of 69 medals.

    Barcelona 1992

    When South Africa returned to the Paralympic Games in 1992, the numbers had grown to over 3 000 athletes competing in 15 sports.

    The country managed a 27th place finish on the medal table, with eight medals in all, made up of four gold, one silver and three bronze medals. That year remains the only time in history that South African Paralympians have failed to reach double figures in the medal count.

    Seven of the South African medals came in athletics, with Pieter Badenhorst winning a gold in the 400 metres and a silver medal in the 200 metres in the men’s TS3 category. One gold medal was won in swimming by Tadhg Slattery in the 100m breaststroke SB5 category.

    That team included Ernst van Dyk, who has since gone on to win the Boston Marathon a record nine times. In Barcelona, he competed in swimming and wheelchair racing, finishing fifth in the pool and making the semi-finals in his wheelchair events.

    While the USA topped the medal table with 175 medals – 75 gold, 52 silver and 48 bronze medals – Germany pushed them hard for top spot, producing 61 champions, 51 runners-up and 59 bronze medal winners for a total of 171 medals.

    Atlanta 1996

    At Atlanta in 1996, South Africa’s results were much improved. A total of 28 medals were won, including 10 gold, eight silver and 10 bronze medals, which was good for 15th place in the standings. The event drew 3 259 competitors in 20 sports.

    The hosts, the USA, finished top of the table with 47 gold, 47 silver and 68 bronze medals, for an overall count of 162 medals. Great Britain was second with a remarkably even spread of 42 gold, 42 silver and 41 bronze medals, 124 in total, and Australia, with 42 gold, 37 silver and 27 bronze medals for a total of 106 was third.

    Included in the South African medal haul was a bronze won by Maragaret Harriman in lawn bowls in the women’s singles LB2 category. It came 20 years after she had last won a Paralympic medal and an amazing 36 years after she had first mounted the Olympic podium for Rhodesia.

    In total, during an outstanding Paralympic career, Harriman won 11 gold medals, two silver medals and four bronze medals.

    Other outstanding performers included Steyn Humphries, who won gold, silver and bronze in field events. Fanie Lombaard won two gold medals and a bronze medal, also in field events, and Malcolm Pringle captured a gold medal and two silvers on the track.

    In the swimming pool, Ebert Kleynhans won gold medals in the 50 and 100 metres freestyle in the B3 class.

    Sydney 2000

    South Africa improved to 13th place at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 as the country’s athletes won 13 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze medals for a total of 38 medals in total. A total of 3 846 athletes took part in 20 sports.

    The advantage of hosting the Paralympics was underlined when Australia topped the medal table for the first time. They won 63 gold, 39 silver and 47 bronze medals for a total of 149 medals. Great Britain was second with 41 gold, 43 silver, and 47 bronze medals for a total of 131 medals in all. Canada placed third, with a haul of 38 gold, 33 silver, and 25 bronzes for a haul of 96 medals overall.

    Fanie Lombaard led the way for South Africa with gold medals in the pentathlon, discus and shot put, as well as a silver medal in the javelin.

    Christelle Bosker claimed two gold and one bronze medal in field events and Zanele Situ made history by becoming the first black South African athlete to win a Paralympic medal as she lifted gold in the javelin and silver in the discus.

    Ebert Kleynhans, now competing in the S12 class, repeated his feat of four years earlier by winning gold medals in the 50 and 100 metres freestyle.

    Athens 2004

    In Athens in 2004, South Africa’s Paralympians once again finished 13th in the standings as 3 806 athletes competed in 19 sports. The country won 15 gold medals, 13 silvers and 7 bronzes for a total of 35 in all.

    That team included for the first time two athletes, Oscar Pistorius and Natalie du Toit, who would go on to become superstars for bridging the gap between Paralympic and Olympic competition.

    Pistorius began his Paralympic career with a gold medal in the men’s T44 200 metres and a bronze medal in the 100 metres.

    Du Toit, who had lost her left leg below the knee in an accident in 2001, was already known for her feat of qualifying for the final of the 800 metres freestyle at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. It was the first time an athlete with a disability had qualified for the final of an able-bodied event at a major competition.

    In Athens, she made (pardon the pun) a big splash, winning five gold medals, three of them in freestyle, one in backstroke, and the other in the individual medley.

    Zanele Situ successfully defended her javelin title, Fanie Lombaard added two golds and a silver medal to his collection, Teboho Mokgalagadi did the 100 and 200 metres double in the T35 class, and Ernst van Dyk won three medals.

    In the swimming pool, Scott Field won four medals, while Tadhg Slattery, 12 years after he first won a gold medal at his first Paralympic Games, won gold again in the men’s 100m breaststroke SB5 class.

    Beijing 2008

    With over 4 200 athletes participating, South Africa won the most gold medals in the country’s history at the Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. The country won 30 medals in all with an incredible 21 of those being gold. That was enough for a sixth place finish on the medal table.

    China easily topped the standings, producing 89 champions, 70 runners-up and another 52 podium finishers for a total of 211 medals. Great Britain, with 42 gold, 29 silver and 31 bronze medals, a total of 102 medals, placed second. The USA, with 35 gold, 35 silver and 28 bronzes, won 99 medals in total and finished third in the medal count.

    Natalie du Toit, as one of only two athletes with disabilities in the Beijing Olympics, had finished 16th in the 10 kilometre open water swim at the Olympics the previous month. She had also carried the South African flag in the Games’ opening ceremony.

    When she carried the flag for the Paralympic team, she became the first person in history to do so at both the Olympics and Paralympics.

    Du Toit shone in the Paralympics, taking home five gold medals in the women’s 50, and 100 and 400m freestyle, the 100m butterfly, and the 200m individual medley.

    Oscar Pistorius, known as “The Blade Runner” because of the artificial limbs he runs on, was crowned Paralympic champion in 100, 200 and 400 metres in the T44 class. Hilton Langenhoven also won three titles in the long jump, pentathlon, and 200 metres. Fanie van der Merwe won the 100 and 200 metres in the T37 class.

    Philippa Johnson, a winner of two silver medals in Athens four years earlier, won two gold medals in equestrian competition.

    Olympic history

    In 2012, Pistorius became the first Paralympian to compete in athletics at the Olympics Games themselves in London. With an inspirational display, he proved he wasn’t there to make up the numbers by making it through to the semi-finals of the 400 metres.

    He was later given the honour of carrying the South African flag at the Olympics’ closing ceremony.

    London 2012

    In London, 164 nations and 4 294 athletes competed in 20 sports. The standard of competition soared to an all-time high with 251 world records being set in just 11 days!

    South African Paralympians won eight gold, 12 silver and nine bronze medals for a total of 29 medals and the Team South Africa finished in 18th place on the medal table, second among African nations, with Tunisia (9, 5, 5, 19) leading the way.

    Natalie du Toit, in her final Paralympic Games, once again led the South African medal haul. She was not in her best form, she admitted, but she was still good enough to sign off with three more gold medals and a silver in the swimming pool. That took her to a South African Paralympic record of 13 gold and two silver medals in her career.

    Oscar Pistorius, like Du Toit one of the most recognisable faces of the Games, suffered a shock defeat, losing for the first time ever in the men’s T44 200 metres.

    He, however, won gold in the 400 metres, finishing a massive three-and-a-half seconds ahead of the second placed runner, and also anchored South Africa to a gold medal in the men’s 4 x 100m relay T42/46 in a world record 41.78 seconds.

    Arnu Fourie kept Pistorius out of the medals in the 100 metres T44 race by finishing third in a regional record of 11.08 seconds and was also part of the world record setting relay squad.

    Ilse Hayes was the leading South African woman in athletics, winning the F13 long jump with a leap of 5.70 metres and picking up silver in the 100 metres with a time of 12.41 seconds.

    Anrune Liebenberg set a personal best time of 56.65 to claim bronze in the women’s T46 400 metres and secured bronze in the 200 metres in a regional record of 25.55.

    In the pool, the leading South African men’s medal winner was Charl Bouwer, who set an African record of 23.99 to capture gold in the 50 metres freestyle. He added further African records in silver medal winning efforts in the 100, backstroke and freestyle.

    Ernst van Dyk, the 2006 winner of the Laureus Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year Award and a nine-time Boston Marathon champion, finished second in the men’s individual hand cycling road race, just one second behind the winner, former Formula One driver Alex Zanardi.

    (gold, silver, bronze, total)

  • 1964 Tokyo: 8, 8, 3, 19
  • 1968 Tel Aviv: 9, 10, 7, 26
  • 1972 Heidelberg: 16, 12, 13, 41
  • 1976 Toronto: 6, 9, 11, 26
  • 1992 Barcelona: 4, 1, 3, 8
  • 1996 Atlanta: 10, 8, 10, 28
  • 2000 Sydney: 13, 12, 13, 38
  • 2004 Athens: 15, 13, 7, 35
  • 2008 Beijing: 21, 3, 6, 30
  • 2012 London: 8, 12, 9, 29
    • ——————-
      110, 88, 82, 280

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