18 May 2005
South Africa sent five athletes to the inaugural Paralympic World Cup that ended on Sunday in Manchester, England.
They came home with seven gold medals between them – as well as two world records in the pool and a sprint double on the track by two people who are bridging the gap between able-bodied and disabled athletes.
World records for Du Toit
Natalie du Toit continued her love affair with Manchester, breaking two world records – each one twice over – at the same venue where she won the David Dixon Award for the outstanding athlete of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Du Toit established new world marks in the 50 metres and 100 metres freestyle, breaking both world records in the heats and then smashing those marks in the finals. When she was done, the 50 metres mark stood at 29.35 seconds and the 100 metres mark at 1:01.68.
Voted the Sports Star of the Year at the SA Sports Awards in 2004, Du Toit lived up to her billing, grabbing gold in the two freestyle events as well as gold in the S9 100 metres backstroke – a notable achievement, as it was the gold medal she missed out on at last year’s Athens Olympics.
Speaking after her success, Du Toit admitted that she hadn’t been expecting her world record-breaking performances, explaining that she had enjoyed a short break after the South African able-bodied national championships.
“I don’t think of myself as being disabled or able-bodied,” she added, “I just want to be myself and to go for my own dreams and goals. For me, there’s really no line.”
Du Toit was not alone in flying South Africa’s flag. In fact, she was one of three South Africans to catch the eye.
Sprint double for Pistorius
Double leg-amputee Oscar Pistorius shone on the track, doing the sprint double as he claimed the 100 metres in 11.23 seconds and the 200 metres in 22.01.
Only a month before the Paralympic World Cup, Pistorius was in action in the South African national championships for able-bodied athletes, clocking 47.34 seconds to finish sixth in the 400 metres.
That performance has given the Pretoria schoolboy the opportunity to bridge the gap between able-bodied and disabled athletes – as Du Toit did in the 800 metres freestyle at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He has been invited to compete in the 400 metres at the IAAF Grand Prix meeting in Helsinki in July.
Should he go – and he would have to get around his father’s wishes that he should rather write his exams – he would become the first disabled athlete to compete in an IAAF Grand Prix meeting.
Like Du Toit, Pistorius was also recognised as one of South Africa’s brightest sports stars in 2004, being named the Newcomer of the Year at the SA Sports Awards.
Two titles for Van Dyk
Ernst van Dyk, the wheelchair marathon world record holder and the recent winner of the Boston Marathon for a record fifth consecutive time, added two more golds to the South African haul. He claimed the pursuit title in 4:20.80, and also won the 1 500 metres in 3:21.85.
Van Dyk was named South Africa’s Disabled Athlete of the Year, tied with Craig Groenewald, in 2004.
High jumper David Roos came close to a medal in Manchester, finishing fourth, while Dewald Reynders settled for seventh place in the discus.
South Africa’s Paralympic team was named Team of the Year at the SA Sports Awards in 2004. Small wonder …