5 September 2012
Natalie du Toit captured her second gold medal of the London Paralympics with a convincing victory in the 400m freestyle S9 class on Tuesday evening as Team South Africa’s tally improved by three medals.
Although not as fast as her world record winning time in Beijing, the win was Du Toit’s third in succession in the event at the Paralympics. It also took her total of Paralympic gold medals to 12.
The South African star touched the wall in 4:30.18, almost 10 seconds ahead of second placed Stephanie Millward of Great Britain. Bronze went to Australia’s Ellie Cole, while South Africa’s Emily Gray finished seventh.
After the race, Du Toit dedicated her win to the former president of Gauteng Central Aquatics, Cathy Doyle, who passed away recently. She told reporters: “Cathy was supposed to be officiating here and it’s very sad because she was at the last world championships by the side of the pool.
‘I want to dedicate this medal to her’
“I try and picture her sitting there on the chair and the whole idea for me was to swim the 400m for her. She really helped me in the province and I want to dedicate this medal to her and to her family who are still supporting me, even in their time of grief.”
Shireen Sapiro was third in the defence of her 100m backstroke S10 title. Despite finishing in bronze medal position, her time of 1:09.02 was faster than her winning time in Beijing and was also a new African record.
“I have to be happy as I swam a personal best,” Sapiro said.
‘The standard has been raised so much’
“The standard of the sport has been raised so much in the last four years, so I knew I would have to fight like I’ve never fought before.”
Canada’s Summer Mortimer took victory in a world record 1:05.90, while Sophie Pascoe of Australia, with whom Sapiro tied in Beijing, won silver in an Oceania record of 1:06.69.
Charl Bouwer tried to repeat as champion in the 400 metres freestyle S13, but was beaten into fifth place.
Belarussian sensation Ihar Boki won his fourth gold medal with his fourth world record, clocking 3:58.78. Ukraine’s Danylo Chufarov, who finished second to Bouwer in Beijing, was second again, with Russia’s Aleksandr Golintovskii in third place.
Michael Louwrens, 52, won a bronze medal in the f57 men’s shot put with a season’s best heave of 13.64 metres, worth 958 points.
Russia’s Alexey Ashapatov claimed gold with a Paralympic record distance of 16.20 and 989 points. Poland’s Janusz Rokicki, whose best put was a distance of 15.68 metres, edged out South Africa’s Louwrens by only two points with a tally of 960.
Louwrens first competed in the Paralympics in 1996 in Atlanta where he won gold in the shot put. He followed that up with gold medals in Sydney and Athens.
He said he had mixed feelings after winning bronze in London. “To be honest, I’m a little disappointed as I was hoping to reach 14 metres, but I’m more excited about this bronze medal than any of my previous gold medals,” he told reporters.
“The standards are huge, they’ve jumped in leaps and bounds and it’s amazing what happens in this world of sport.”
The comments by Louwrens and Shireen Sapiro about the higher standards of competition were confirmed when the International Paralympic Committee said the London Paralympics were on course for more world records than were set in Beijing in 2008.
IPC media and communications director Craig Spence said 279 world records were set in Beijing. By Tuesday in London, 137 world records had been set, along with 81 Paralympic Games records.
‘This is not just a hobby sport’
Addressing a media conference, Spence said: “The fact is our athletes are getting better. They’re training full-time. This is not just a hobby sport. It’s professional sport at its very best,” he told a news conference.
“Some countries are enjoying far better levels of funding, which in turn leads to better results. We would like to put it down to their (the athletes’) hard work rather than anything else.”
He added: “World records used to be broken by 10 to 15 seconds, but the margins people are breaking world records by is now plateauing. I think it’s a good sign at the end of the day that or athletes are getting better.”
After Tuesday’s action, Team South Africa had accumulated three gold, five silver and seven bronze medals for a total of 15 medals. The country moved up one one position on the medal table from 23rd to 22nd place.
Front-running China has won 53 gold, 39 silver and 40 bronze medals, bringing their total to 132.
The top three countries remain the same with Great Britain (23, 30, 26, 79) in second and Russia (23, 22, 17) in third.
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