The Paralympics have concluded with our South African heroes receiving a total of 17 medals with 7 of them being gold.
South Africa entered 44 athletes in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 7 September to 18 September 2016. The country qualified athletes in archery, athletics, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, powerlifting, rowing, swimming, shooting and wheelchair tennis.
South Africans have been celebrating all our incredible athletes at the Games… and rightfully so, they did an absolutely incredible job. And even though they may have gone to Rio as athletes, every single one of them are coming home as heroes.
These are some of their stories…
Wheelchair-racer and handcyclist Ernst van Dyk competed in his seventh Paralympics in Rio; his first was Barcelona in 1992. He has one gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
Javelin and discus para-athlete Zanele Situ has two golds and one silver, and this was her fifth Paralympics, and para-equestrian Philippa Johnson, who won double gold in Beijing in 2008 competed in her fourth Paralympics.
Then there are the rising stars, including the new bladerunner, 14-year-old double-leg amputee Ntando Mahlangu, who won silver for Team South Africa in the men’s T42 final on Sunday 11th September. The Mpumalanga athlete’s time of 23.77 seconds was tipped by British Paralympian Richard Whitehead (23.39).
Mahlangu astonished the world at the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Under 23 World Games in Prague from 29 June to 3 July this year. He won in several T42 distances: the 800 m (2:06.70s) (new world record), the 400 m (52.61s) (new world record), the 200 m (25.89s) and 100 m (13:13s), and he was awarded Best Athlete at the Games.
Mahlangu received his prosthetic legs through Jumping Kids – a South African organisation launched in 2009 by Johan Snyders that provides the latest prosthetic limb technology to children. Today, Mahlangu is an ambassador for Ottobock, an international prosthetics company.
Of the six swimmers competing, four won medals in London – Shireen Sapiro, Achmat Hassiem, Hendri Herbst and Kevin Paul. Kevin trains under national swimming coach Graham Hill, who has trained Olympian Chad le Clos for 16 years.
Hassiem, also known as Sharkboy, lost his right leg from the knee down after a great white shark attacked him, and is a spokesperson for the conservation of endangered species.
This was his third Paralympics. After the loss of his leg, Paralympian gold medalist Natalie du Toit visited him and suggested that he get into paralympic swimming.
‘I didn’t really know anything about disabled sport – it’s only once you are disabled that you realise how big it is and the opportunity it provides, and I thought, ‘OK, there is still hope’.’
‘The days when disability was a limiting factor are over. Today, if you set your mind to it and you want to achieve something, you can do whatever you want to do – you just need to want to do it,’ says Van Dyk, who was born in 1973 without legs.
That did not stop him from playing sport and by the age of 17, he had earned his national colours for swimming.
In 1982, at the age of 12, Zanele Situ from Matatile in the Eastern Cape became paralysed from her fourth vertebra down. It is thought that she contracted a tuberculosis infection. Her teacher in Mthatha then encouraged her to take up javelin.
At first she found performing in front of tens of thousands of people extrememly intimidating: ‘I just wanted to go home. But once I had my first throw and saw that it went over the yellow line for the world record, I felt much better!’
Over the past two weeks our new South African heroes have competed in para-athletics, aquatics, wheelchair tennis, cycling, shooting, rowing, canoeing, powerlifting, equestrian and archery.
Other heroes include running and long jump para-athlete Hilton Langenhoven, who has won three Paralympic gold and two silver medals. Fellow running and long jump para-athlete Mphumelelo Mhlongo who was competing for the first time and currently completing a BSc in chemical engineering at the University of Cape Town.
Para-cyclist Roxanne Burns is a Sports Science graduate competed for the first time and is busy completing a postgraduate diploma in education. Arnu Fourie has one Paralympic gold and one bronze medal to his name, and he is an ambassador for Jumping Kids.
‘We look forward to the team bringing home a lot of medals and showing the world what our new South African heroes are made of,’ says Badenhorst.
Here’s the full list of all the medal winners:
Kevin Paul – Swimming – Men’s 100m Breaststroke
Hilton Langenhoven – Athletics – Men’s Long Jump
Charl du Toit – Athletics – Men’s 100m
Ernst van Dyk – Cycling – Men’s Road Race
Reinhardt Hamman – Athletics – Men’s Javelin Throw
Charl du Toit – Athletics – Men’s 400m
Dyan Buis – Athletics – Men’s 400m
Ilse Hayes – Athletics – Women’s 100m
Ntando Mahlangu – Athletics – Men’s 200m
Anrune Liebenberg – Athetics – Women’s 400m
Jonathan Ntutu – Athletics – Men’s 100m
Ilse Hayes – Athletics – Women’s 400m
Hilton Langenhoven – Athletics – Men’s 200m
Fanie van der Merwe – Athletics – Men’s 100m
Tyrone Pillay – Athletics – Men’s Shot Put
Zanele Situ – Athletics – Women’s Javelin Throw
Dyan Buis – Athletics – Men’s Long Jump