Medal number 30 for SA as Paralympics end

Ernst van Dyk rounded off the Paralympics for South Africa on Wednesday with a bronze medal in the last event of the Games when he finished third in the men’s marathon T54.

Van Dyk, who won his first Paralympic gold last Sunday in the hand-cycling road race, finished just one second behind gold medallist Kurt Fearnley of Australia in a final dash for the line.

Fearnley and silver medallist Hiroki Sasahara of Japan were credited with identical times, with Fearnley’s 1:23:17 becoming the Paralympic champion.

”My arms were really stiff throughout,” said Van Dyk, who had said before the race he was looking to just use the opportunity to tour through the streets of Beijing and finish the games in the Bird’s Nest National Stadium — especially since he had achieved a lifelong ambition of winning a Paralympic gold.

”But I found the pace surprisingly comfortable, and I hung off the back of the bunch. Because I am so fit, I was able to respond to all the surges, and then I found myself in the sprint finish,” he added.

Van Dyk, who is one of the world’s best wheelchair marathoners with seven victories in the Boston Marathon to his credit, was thrilled with the bronze.

The marathon started at Tiananmen Square and passed the Temple of Heaven and several other Beijing attractions while winding its way through residential areas to the finish.

According to the disability classification of the Paralympics, Van Dyk competed in a range of categories covering wheelchair athletes with different levels of spinal-cord injuries and amputations.

Van Dyk, who is 35 and competing in his fifth Paralympics, said he felt he had at least two more Paralympics in him.

”My wife and I are about to have a child, and that will really alter our lifestyles,” he said. ”I need to take that into account in my plans for the future.”

His medal lifted South Africa’s haul to 30 for the Games, with 21 golds, three silvers and six bronze — the most successful Paralympics to date.

South Africa finished in sixth place on the medal table, sandwiched between Australia with 23 golds and Canada with 19.

Closing time
China prepared on Wednesday to bring down the curtain on a spectacular summer of sport during which it dazzled on and off the track, with the final events and closing ceremony of the Paralympics.

The eyes of the world will once again be on the Bird’s Nest stadium as Beijing extinguishes the flame of the 13th Paralympics after what the international movement’s chief Philip Craven described as a ”great Games”.

China has dominated the medals table here, standing on 88 golds and 208 medals overall with just a few events still to finish, enjoying particular success in athletics, swimming and table tennis.

Britain, who chased China hard in the early part of the Games, had 42 golds and 102 medals early on Wednesday afternoon, ahead of the United States in third place with 36 golds and 99 medals.

China’s Paralympics performance mirrored its efforts at last month’s Olympics, where it finished top of the medals table and similarly won similar praise from organisers for staging a well-run and spectacular event.

The Games have been widely praised for their superb organisation and the huge crowds that have turned out to watch the sports, particularly at the athletics and swimming.

China has also sought to use the Paralympics to improve the plight of its 80-million disabled.

Ahead of the event, authorities made Beijing friendlier for disabled people by, for example, setting up the country’s first fleet of easy-access taxis and making tourist spots such as the Great Wall accessible to wheelchairs.

Huge efforts were also made to show that China treated the Paralympics with as much importance as the Olympics, including keeping anti-pollution measures such as a partial ban on cars in place. — Sapa, Sapa-AFP

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