South Africa’s Paralympics fraternity celebrated the 100-days-to go landmark at a glittering occasion in Cape Town’s Waterfront district on Monday, 21 May.
The occasion was attended by the Honorable Deputy Sports Minister Mr Gert Oosthuizen, Honorable Western Cape Premier Mrs Helen Zille, Honorable Mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille and the national Olympic governing body SASCOC’s Chief Executive Officer Mr Tubby Reddy.
Official Team South Africa ambassadors Geraldine Pillay, Cynthia Tshaka, Lucas Radebe and Cecil Africa were in attendance along with some of our top Paralympic performers – 2008 Beijing Paralympics gold medal-winning athletes Ilse Hayes and Fanie van der Merwe along with fellow athlete Jonathan Ntutu and cyclist Roxy Burns.
At the 2008 Paralympics Team South Africa returned with 30 medals, 21 of which were gold.
Stars of the show in Beijing were swimmer Natalie du Toit with five medals, while our “Bladerunner” athlete Oscar Pistorius ran off with three gold medals of his own.
At the function and representing SASCOC, First Vice-President Ms Hajera Kajee paid tribute to these two examples of sporting excellence.
“The general sporting public often seem to overlook the Paralympics, coming as they do around two weeks after the conclusion of the sporting extravaganza that is the Olympic Games every four years. But here in South Africa two of our leading sports personalities happen to be Paralympians.
“I’m talking about Oscar and Natalie. Between these two fine people, they have taken huge strides and gone to great lengths to give not only Paralympic sport, but South African sport in general, much-needed global exposure.
“Both have shone ever so brightly on the international scene and I am sure that they will continue to do so in London this year. Already Natalie has competed in both the Olympics and Paralympics four years ago in Beijing. And right now Oscar is just one good 400-metre run away from qualifying for this year’s Olympics.
“In 1948 a doctor from England, Dr Ludwig Guttmann, organised the 1948 International Wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. His dream was of a worldwide sports competition for people with disabilities to be held every four years as ‘the equivalent of the Olympic Games.’ Just 12 years later, his dream became a reality. The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy, in 1960 and involved 400 athletes from 23 countries. In London later this year an estimated 4,200 athletes and officials from roughly 150 countries will be in action at the Paralympics – so let us never underestimate the status of the Paralympics.”
Speaking at the function, Hayes, who won gold in the long jump (F13) and silver in the 100-metre dash (T13) said: “We’ve had a few hard weeks of training behind us and a few more to follow but that’s a good thing since we are training for the biggest sporting event ever. Since Cape Town weather doesn’t always treat us well in the winter we are off to train overseas in June/July and also fitting in two competitions in Germany and the Netherlands. We are very excited about that and would just like to thank SASCOC for making it possible for us to prepare in the best conditions.”
Hayes and fellow track athlete Van der Merwe recently travelled to London to get a closer look at the competition venue for the Paralympics.
Said Van der Merwe, a double gold medallist in the sprints (T37 category) in Beijing and who was part of Team South Africa at the All Africa Games in Mozambique last year: “Although everything wasn’t quite finished it was an awesome experience being there, one thing I have realised for these Games is that we should put Beijing behind us and get a new focus – not comparing the two – because it will be a completely new experience! Time is short now! We will be here for the next month, then in Europe for a month, then back here for the last pre-competition preparations.”
Joining in the spirit was para-cyclist Roxy Burns: “It’s great to have the 100-day countdown and I wasn’t going to miss the whole spirit of the London build-up. We didn’t (or I didn’t know about it) a 100-day function before Beijing so this is great.
“I’ve been off hard training for about two weeks with a bit of a foot injury but I’m back to the hard stuff now but being careful. These Paralympics are going to be so much nicer for me personally because I know what to expect. I know my competition and know what I need to achieve. It’s going to be difficult because I have a lot of pressure to perform but I can only do my best.”