12 September 2008
South Africa’s Paralympians continue to excel in Beijing, with swimmer Natalie du Toit’s haul up to three gold medals and equestrian star Phillipa Johnson claiming a second win.
Swimmer Kevin Paul, athletes David Roos and Fanie Lombard, and cyclists Gavin Kilpatrick and Michael Thomson were also among the medalists on Wednesday and Thursday.
Du Toit claimed her third gold on day five of the swimming competition in a world record time in the SM9 200 metres individual medley of two minutes, 27.83 seconds. It was a massive victory for “the Flying Fish”, who won by 9.71 seconds over second-placed Stephanie Dixon of Canada.
The inspirational Du Toit, who swam in the open water marathon at the Olympics, previously won the 100 metres butterfly and the 100 metres freestyle. She is aiming for five gold medals in Beijing, with the 50 metres freestyle and the 400 metres freestyle still to come.
She says her main concern is in the 50m freestyle, because her start is not strong; Du Toit had her left leg amputated below the knee after an accident on her motor scooter in 2001 and can therefore not push off when diving into the pool as strongly as other athletes can do.
A day earlier, there was another gold for South Africa in the swimming pool when Kevin Paul captured the men’s SB9 100 metres breaststroke title.
Paul had shocked even himself when he qualified for the final with a world record time of one minute, 08.70 seconds, thus improving his personal best by an amazing four seconds.
He went even faster in the final, bettering his own world record by 12-hundredths of a second with a time of one minute, 08.58 seconds. It took more than two seconds off the mark that had stood leading into the Paralympics and it also gave him victory over runner-up, Lin Furong of China, by exactly a second.
Phillipa Johnson won her second equestrian gold medal on day four of the Games in the individual freestyle test grade four with a superb performance on her mount, Benedict, which garnered her 77.272 points and victory by more than two points over Norway’s Ann Cathrin Lubbe.
Johnson was thrilled with her victory and praised her horse, Benedict, describing him as “incredible” and saying he dug deep for her.
At Athens, four years ago, Johnson won two silver medals. This time around she was crowned champion in the two events she entered.
David Roos picked up a silver medal in the men’s F46 long jump on the third day of track and field competition. He saved his best for last, leaping 6.64 metres on his sixth and final jump to move into a medal position. Victory went to France’s Arnaud Assoumani with a world record 7.14 metres.
On the same day Fanie Lombard won bronze in the men’s F42 shot put with a distance of 13.87 metres, which was just five centimetres short of silver medallist Maxim Narozhnyy of Russia. Croatia’s Darko Kralj bettered 14 metres with all six of his throws and won with a distance of 14.43 metres.
Lombard is the most successful South African athlete in the history of the Paralympics with seven gold, two silver and two bronze medals. However, if Natalie du Toit continues on her winning streak, she will take over the top spot.
On the final day of racing in track cycling, Wednesday, there was success for South Africa as Gavin Kilpatrick and Michael Thomson secured bronze in the sprint for blind and vision-impaired athletes.
Marius Stander finished just out of the medals in the men’s T38 400 metres in a season’s best 52.56 seconds, just 0.11 behind the bronze medal winner.
With big stars Natalie Du Toit and Oscar Pistorius still to contest two more events each, hopes of another four gold medals for South Africa are high.
The chances of a pentathlon gold medal in the P12 class look strong too. Hilton Langenhoven, with 2 250 points after three events, enjoys a big lead of 223 points over Germany’s Thomas Ulbricht and 290 points over Tunisia’s Mahmoud Khaldi, who is in third place.
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