/ 20 September 2004

Gold rolls in for SA Paralympic team

Big Fanie Lombaard was the sensation at the opening of Paralympic athletics action this weekend when he threw a golden world record in the shot put in Athens on Sunday night to mark his sixth Paralympic gold medal. Natalie du Toit swam a world-record gold in the 100m butterfly.

Scott Field won silver in the men’s 100m butterfly to gain a foothold at 11th on the medals table after day two of Paralympics action.

”This has been my most fantastic experience,” enthused Lombaard as he clutched the heavy golden medal, emblazoned with a scene of the Acropolis, to his chest.

”These Paralympics are like coming home. The Greeks treated me fabulously. It was awesome out there. It’s been my best experience by far.”

Du Toit, also a leg amputee, is set to be a major sensation of the Paralympics in seven events. She got her debut Paralympics campaign off to an explosive start by breaking her world record that she swam in the morning heats to win the gold medal in 1:07,54. Her morning heat broke her own world record by three seconds in 1:07,69.

Du Toit was in a class of her own against Canada’s Stephanie Dixon, who touched at 1:12,01.

”This is truly a great feeling,” said the Cape Town swimmer. ”It’s a good start for me.

”I was more nervous before the final than the heats this morning. I was worried about my competitors because I thought they held back this morning, but once in the water I put my head down and went for it.”

Field, South Africa’s visually impaired swimmer, was within a stroke of gold in the 100m butterfly. He claimed silver in 1:01,75 behind Charalampos Tainidis of Greece, who swam 1:01,50.

”I died a touch in the last 25m,” said Scott. ”But I’m very happy with my silver. I beat the Russian Andrey Strokin, who pipped me for the silver when I won bronze at the Sydney Paralympics.”

Lombaard struck gold in the competition for leg amputees with his first heave that hit the turf at 13,81m, beating his own world record of 13,52m that he threw in Durban in March. He beat Bulgaria’s Viktor Khilmonchyk, who reached a personal best of 13,19m.

”I would have liked to have hit 14m, but man, what the heck, it’s a world record and a Paralympic gold. I feel fantastic.”

As jubilant as he was in this, his third Paralympics, the day could have been a disaster for the likeable big 35-year-old from Pretoria.

”I was so zoned in for this competition that I got on the bus at the Athlete’s Village to discover that I’d left my competition leg back in my room. That’s the trouble when you become a toppie — you become all forgetful.

”Young Oscar Pistorius said hey, where was my leg, so I rushed back to my room to get it. Luckily, it was early enough to catch the next bus in to the Olympic Stadium. It shows you, we’re learning from the youth now.”

Lombaard said before these Games that they would be his last, but after Sunday night, he was thinking twice about his decision.

”I still believe I can get that 14m,” he said. ”I reckon I’ll keep going for another two years and see how things go from there.

”But it’s not finished yet. We’ve still got the discus to go and I really want to be the first to crack the 50m mark. I can thank my coach, Doepie du Plessis, for the form I’m in right now. He’s an Olympic coach and I really value his time and effort in me.”

Lombaard heaped praise on the crowd.

”They were cheering their Greek athlete on, then when he fell out of the reckoning, I got them behind me and they really lifted me.”

Lombaard, who lost his left leg after a freak rugby accident in 1993, competes in the discus on Tuesday and will also contest the javelin, ”but I’ve not put too much focus on that event”, he said.

”I’m a bit worried about my right knee, though,” he said. ”I got a bit of a twinge during competition tonight. But I’m sure I’ll be okay. I have full faith in our medical team.”

Du Toit, who lost her right leg in a scooter accident four years ago, shot through to Sunday night’s final with a one minute and 7,69 seconds victory in her heat, beating her 1:10,55 world record she set in Durban in March.

Sunday night’s world mark is the trigger for what could develop into Du Toit emerging as a sensation at the Games. She is the favourite for six other events — the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley — during the course of next week.

In other events, Zanele Situ, who is paralysed from the waist down and who won shot-put silver in Sydney 2000, dropped down the order to finish seventh with a personal best of 5,37m, but she is fully primed to defend her Paralympic javelin title.

In the women’s discus throw, Jane Mandean (season’s best 19,38m), Chenelle van Zyl (personal best 18,21m) and Beverly Mashinini (16,31m) finished sixth, eighth and 10th.

Ernst van Dyk showed sharp form in winning his 1 500m wheelchair heat in a Paralympic record 3:04,50 that was eclipsed by Jean Jeannot of France in the next heat (3:00,17). Nathan Meyer also looked sharp in winning his 200m heat for arm-amputee sprinters.

In table tennis, Mark Nilsen and Pieter du Plooy have been the only winners so far in prelim rounds. Nilsen enjoyed a 3-1 victory against Antonios Kalyvas of Greece, while Du Plooy beat Hatsuo Ono of Japan 3-0.

Tadhg Slattery (cerebral palsy) finished sixth in the 200m individual medley final, as did Oliver Nathan, whose disability is Les Autes, in the women’s 100m butterfly.

Cyclists Stephan Herholdt and Janos Plekker made it through into the individual pursuit semifinals on Monday. — Sapa