8 September 2008
South African swimmer Natalie du Toit made history on Saturday when she became the first person to carry a country’s flag at the opening ceremony of both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.
After leading the South African Olympic team into the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing on 8 August, she was elected to lead the SA Paralympic team into the same stadium on 6 September.
Du Toit, who finished 16th in the open water swimming marathon at the Olympics last month, is aiming for five gold medals in the Paralympics. Four years ago, in Athens, she claimed five golds and one silver.
She went part of the way to achieving her goal on the weekend when she captured gold in the 100 metres butterfly, thus ensuring that South Africa’s Paralympians will fare better than their able-bodied counterparts, who returned from Beijing with only a silver medal, won by Khotso Mokoena in the long jump.
Du Toit qualified for the final with a world record in the heats and then lowered that mark to one minute and 6.74 seconds to take victory.
As two of the most recognisable and famous athletes at the Paralympics, Du Toit and Oscar Pistorius will spearhead South Africa’s Paralympic challenge.
“The Blade Runner”, who won a gold and a bronze in Athens, is aiming for a clean sweep of the 100, 200, and 400 metres sprints. He is the world record holder in all three events, but Pistorius is hoping to lower his 400-metre mark in Beijing.
He believes the number of records set in the Olympic Games indicates that the track in Beijing is fast, and that the possibility of breaking records is good.
Earlier in the year, Pistorius’ attempts to qualify to run the 400 metres at the Olympic Games was a story that captured headlines all around the world.
The International Association of Athletics Associations banned him from the Games after conducting tests on his “blades”, which they ruled gave him an unfair advantage.
Pistorius challenged the findings and, after conducting independent tests, took his case to the Court for Arbitration in Sport in Lausanne. The court found in his favour and he was cleared to run at the Olympics.
Unfortunately, the case had taken a big chunk out of Pistorius’ training time and he failed to meet the qualifying standards for the Olympics, but he plans to qualify for London 2012.
Pistorius, who was second in the 400 metres in the SA National Championships in 2007, says he has a different focus when competing against abled-bodied athletes – his aim, then, is to win. At the Paralympics, his aim is to better his previous best performances.
Would you like to use this article in your publication
or on your website?
See: Using SAinfo material