21 July 2009
Team South Africa excelled at the 2009 Global Games for intellectually impaired athletes, which took place in the Czech Republic earlier this month, with swimmer Craig Groenewald winning the award for best male athlete of the Games and the men’s athletics team placing third overall.
Groenewald, who received the Most Successful Male Athlete Trophy from the President of the Senate of the Czech Parliament, scored more points than anyone else out of the 818 athletes in action at the Global Games. He also received the Top Male Swimmer award, thanks to his five individual gold medals and two relay bronze medals.
The men’s team finished as the third most successful country in the athletics code, bagging three gold, two silver and three bronze medals over the course of the competition in a range of disciplines. The Eastern Cape’s Khanti Mncedi was the most successful of South Africa’s athletes, with an individual haul of two gold medals and one silver medal.
South African team
The second edition of the Global Games, which featured intellectually-impaired athletes from over 40 countries, were held in Liberec, Jablonec nad Nisou and Cesky Dub in the Czech Republic. South Africa’s team was 57-strong, with the country’s athletes competing in athletics, basketball, futsal, swimming and table tennis.
Champion Groenewald is no stranger to success, having been declared the top male swimmer at both the 4th and 5th INAS-FID (International Federation for people with Intellectual Disability) World Swimming Championships in 2005 and 2007 respectively. He was also a medalist at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Paralympics.
In 12 attempts at the Midmar Mile, the world’s largest open water swimming event, Groenewald, competing against the able-bodied swimmers in the Iron Man category, is unbeaten.
‘Dedication and preparation’
Groenewald attributes his success to “dedication and preparation, and two tiring training sessions six days a week!”
Ina Fowler, national swimming convener for intellectually disabled swimmers, believes that “Craig’s achievements are absolutely incredible.” She explained: “He got gold medals in all but one of his individual events, and we are so proud of him.”
Commenting on the standard of intellectually disabled swimming, both locally and internationally, she said it “just keeps getting higher every year, which just makes Craig’s accolades all the more impressive.”
Success and depth
Fowler added that “the entire team had a successful championship; in many cases we had two or three swimmers in a final, so that also shows that we have depth in our squad.
“The girls’ relay team medaled in four of the five relay events, so the coaches and management are very happy with the all-round performance of the squad,” said concluded.
The swimming team captured a total of 11 medals, and established many South African records along the way in both men’s and women’s individual events and relay events – an indication that the standards of intellectually-disabled swimming in the country is constantly improving.
Rocky Makgoka, the national athletics convener, was also full of praise for her athletes, who took home a total of 10 medals in individual and relay events. She said: “Nearly every athlete who attended the games has won a medal, and that was because our athletes were motivated and had trained very hard in the months and weeks leading up to the tour.
‘A team effort’
“Although Mncedi was the standout athlete, it took a team effort for the men to be the third most successful country in the athletics competition.”
The futsal team, which was the first South African futsal team to representing the country at an international event, placed a very respectable fifth overall.
The result, which could have very easily been bettered had the team not lost out to eventual winners Portugal by a goal in the dying seconds of their last crucial group encounter, was nevertheless “something to be proud of,” said Navigator Mangadi, the national convener for both football and futsal.
‘We are very proud’
“For first time performers on the international stage, to be ranked fifth is not something that we were expecting, so we are very proud of our boys,” he said.
The basketball team started their campaign with promise, thrashing Hungary, but their challenge was soon derailed by a spate of injuries to key players. Bongi Shongwe, national basketball convener, said that despite the “bumps in the road our players still did their very best, and salvaged a seventh place finish.
“The team has been improving a lot over the last two years, and if we can keep the team together we will achieve in the years to come.”
The sole table tennis representative Thelma Mabena did well to beat one of her higher ranking opponents in the women’s individual competition.
Piet Nhlapo, the national convener for table tennis, commented: “Although we have a lot of table tennis talent in the country, we still have a long way to go to meet the current international standard of countries like China.”
He identified the lack of regular international exposure for South African players as a stumbling block. However, he was optimistic that the country could make its mark, saying: “With better structures in place, both provincially and nationally, we can become a force in the international table tennis arena.”
The South African team general manager Theuns Luus was very pleased with the team’s results. “This is all about hard work over many years, from school level up to club level, and this is just the beginning of much more to come in the future.”
Paying tribute to those who helped the team shine in Hungary, Luus said: “Our athletes remain motivated, and our coaches, who are mostly teachers, are prepared to work hard as volunteers in their schools and areas.”
Lizzie Vogel, the President of SASA-II (South Africa Sports Association for the Intellectually Impaired) was both proud of and pleased with the 21 medals that the South African team brought home. “It takes dedication and perseverance to be able to achieve on the international stage,” she said, “and I am just so happy that the hard work of all the athletes was rewarded with medals.”
She added: “We are obviously ecstatic that Craig (Groenewald) was chosen as the most successful athlete, as success breeds success, and it is good for the younger athletes who are just starting their international careers to feel what is like to be part of a successful international campaign.”
Vogel further praised the South African team management. “The wonderful team of managers was a pleasure to work with,” she said, “and their hard work and good grace was recognised as the large team of Czech volunteers selected SA as the best managed country. So we know that the world took notice of South Africa.”
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