This team’s going for gold

A strong South African team is expected to win many medals at the Paralympics in Atlanta, writes Julian Drew

ONE group of South African sportsmen and women whose potential for gold is far greater than most of those who will go to the Olympic Games have received barely a mention as the hype around Atlanta steadily gains momentum.

They are South Africa’s disabled athletes who will compete in the Paralympic Games in Atlanta 11 days after the Olympic closing ceremony.

South Africa first sent a team to the Paralympics in 1964 when Tokyo followed the lead of Rome which, four years earlier, had become the first Olympic city to stage them in conjunction with the Olympic Games.

The nine-strong team in Japan won nine gold, seven silver and three bronze medals yet even this feat was surpassed in 1968 when the Paralympics were staged in Tel Aviv after concerns about the altitude in Mexico City. It was in Israel that eight South African competitors recorded the highest medal count ever seen with their tally of 27 medals for an average of over three per athlete.

The international sports boycott eventually caught up with disabled sport and South Africa was excluded from the Paralympics in 1980. After an 11th-hour call-up to Barcelona they carried on where they had left off with eight medals from a team of 10.

This year we can expect an even more impressive medal haul from the largest Paralympic team ever to leave these shores after 40 athletes were named last weekend to go to Atlanta. “Obviously anything can happen on the day but everyone in the team is expected to be a real medal contender and will definitely make the final. It’s a very strong contingent that is going to Atlanta,” says Andy Scott, chef de mission to the team and vice-president of the National Paralympic Committee (Napcosa).

South Africa has some real superstars in disabled sport and many of them are on the team. At the 1994 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) athletics world championships in Berlin South Africa won 20 medals and it is the track and field athletes who will form the largest group in the team with 18 places.

Among them will be former Northern Transvaal rugby player, Fanie Lombaard, who had his left leg amputated below the knee after an accident in training in 1993. He won the gold medal for the shot, discus and javelin in Berlin and broke two world records.

Shot putter Michael Louwrens is also a gold medallist and world record holder from Berlin but another of those expected to do well in Atlanta is newcomer on the scene Steyn Humphreys, who holds the world record in his disability category for the javelin and discus.

The seven-strong swimming team will include Tadhg Slattery who broke the 100 m breaststroke world record to win gold at the IPC world championships in Malta in 1994 as did the then 15-year-old, Jean-Jaques Terblanche, in the 200m individual medley.

The only major championships attended by South Africa last year saw a team of 18 bowlers at the world championships in England earn 12 places for Atlanta. The stars of the bowls team in England were Deirdre Buller, Stephen Coleman and Ronnie Phillips who are all blind and each won gold.

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Maya Fisher French
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