Oscar, winner!

22 September 2004

After a good start on the first weekend of the Paralympic Games in Athens, South African athletes have continued raking in the medals, with double amputee Oscar Pistorius putting in two very different but equally sensational performances in the 200 metres.

Disability Sport South Africa Pistorius, who was born without shin bones, captured the imagination of the Athens crowd in his qualifying heat on Monday when he fell at the start. Instead of throwing in the towel, he scrambled back to his feet and took off in pursuit of his opposition.

Incredibly, he not only caught up with the rest of the field, he passed them – his winning time of 23.42 seconds a double amputee world record.

Mind-blowing record
On Tuesday evening Pistorius was in action again, this time in the final, facing a field made up of single amputees. Unhindered by a poor start, he destroyed his opposition, obliterating the world record with a mind-blowing time of 21.97 seconds. The previous mark was 22.71.

To put that performance in perspective, (able-bodied athlete) Juliet Campbell captured Olympic gold in the women’s 200 metres in 22.05 seconds, while Leigh Julius, running for South Africa in the 200 metres men’s heats at Athens, clocked 20.80.

After the event, Pistorius declared himself “tired” and said all he wished to do was to return to his room and rest up for the 100 metres. He must be a favourite to add a second medal to his collection in that race.

Brian Frasure, the American whose world record Pistorius shattered, and the man who built the South African’s racing prosthetics, finished third in the race, and declared the 17-year-old’s performance “absolutely amazing”. He reckons Pistorius’s time of 21.97 will translate to a sub-11 second 100 metres.

Third consecutive Paralympic gold for Pringle
There was another gold on the track for South Africa when Malcolm Pringle, running in the 800 metres for athletes with cerebral palsy, cracked the world record with a superb run of 1:58.90 seconds.

It was Pringle’s third Paralympic 800 metres gold in succession, as well as an emotional victory; Pringle dedicated his win to his best friend, Gert van der Merwe, who died in August 2002 after failing to regain consciousness following surgery on a leg injury. Van der Merwe competed in the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000, winning gold in the shot put for cerebral palsied athletes.

Controversial silver for Van Dyk
Ernst van Dyk had to settle for silver in the 1 500 metres for wheelchair athletes, but it was a controversial result. Van Dyk controlled the pace from the start of the race but, with 200 metres to go, Mexico’s Saul Mendoza cut across Van Dyk in the sprint for the finish line.

The South African athlete’s left wheel was forced off the ground as he took evasive action, which also cost him some momentum. Van Dyk fought back, closing down the gap, but in the end the Mexican finished 0.41 seconds ahead of the star from Paarl.

Ampie Louw, manager of the South African team, lodged an appeal on Van Dyk’s behalf, but when it became clear that it would be difficult to prove Mendoza’s infraction, the protest was withdrawn.

Van Dyk accepted the result with good grace, declaring himself happy with the silver. He will have plenty of opportunities to better than result, as he takes on an extremely busy schedule that includes the 400 metres, the 800 metres, the 5 000 metres, and the marathon.

More track silvers, bronze
Nathan Meyer captured silver in the 200 metres for the visually impaired. He finished third in the race, but the USA’s Royal Mitchell was later disqualified and Meyer moved up to second.

Hilton Langenhoven added silver in the long jump to South Africa’s collection with a leap of 7.03 metres for visually impaired athletes. He will also compete in the javelin, 100 metres and 200 metres.

Bev Mashinini, competing in the women’s javelin for cerebral palsied athletes, threw 21.94 metres with her fifth throw, to capture the bronze medal. Speaking afterwards, she said she knew the throw was a good one because it left her shoulder sore!

Teboho Mokgalagadi, whose disability is spastic diplegic, set a world record in the 100 metres heats, clocking 13.07 seconds.

Second gold for Du Toit
In the swimming pool, Natalie du Toit landed her second gold medal, winning the 100 metres freestyle in 1:02.83. Her winning time was a Paralympic record, but just outside the world record of 1:02.72 that she set in Barcelona last year.

Du Toit just missed out on a medal in the 100 metres breaststroke, finishing fourth and over six seconds behind world record holder Sisse Egeborg of Denmark.

The Cape Town swimmer wasn’t disappointed by the result, saying she knew she wouldn’t do well in the breaststroke, but that the event was useful in preparing her for her next challenge, the 200 metres individual medley.

Second silver for Field
Scott Field followed up on his silver medal in the 100 metres butterfly with another silver in the 400 metres freestyle for the visually impaired. He admitted to some surprise at the result, saying he hadn’t expected to do so well in the race.

On a sad note, South African team flag bearer Rosabelle Riese suffered a broken left leg in a freak accident after falling from her wheelchair while boarding the team bus on Monday.

Cape Town-based Riese was due to participate in the table tennis doubles competition along with Alet Moll. Moll will still participate in the single’s table tennis event.