AsI listen to the predictions from all quarters of South Africa’s medal haul at the curtain raiser to the Paralympic / Olympic Games I, as always, start to formulate and doodle my own thoughts for medals at the Paralympic Games. Predictions can create unnecessary pressure on athletes so I always take a tongue in cheek approach and try not to get too serious about it. It is a serious business though,winning medals at Olympic and Paralympic Games!
Looking back, South Africa has been blessed with icons in various sporting codes but the impact that our beloved rainbow nation athletes have made in the area of sport for the disabled in recent times is staggering to say the least. That South Africa can boast three Laureus winners in the category - Athlete with a Disability - is remarkable. Wheelchair racing supremo Ernst vanDyk (2006), swimming sensation Natalie du Toit (2010) and of course current, global track-superstar Oscar Pistorius (2012) make a formidable trio of sporting legends that any country on the planet would be proud to have in their fold.
Attracting much international interest through a handsome formula of glitz and glamour, the Laureus awards are generally referred to as the Oscars of the sporting world and it was very deserving that, after an amazing year in 2011 where he achieved so much, Oscar finally met “Oscar” at a glittering red carpet affair in London. Oscar is rapidly becoming the face of the London Paralympic Games with even the great Sir Sebastian Coe acknowledging his prowess. Take a bowgood sir, you have made us proud!
The “majors” didn’t stop there however. Let’s not forget our IPC Whang Dai award winners: javelin queen Zanele (Spear of Africa) Situ (Athens ParalympicGames 2004) and Natalie (Flying Fish) du Toit (Beijing 2008). For those wondering, the Whang Dai award is the highest humanitarian accolade (overcoming disability / adversity) presented by the International Paralympic Committee and is awarded after a stringent process, to one male and one female athlete at the closing ceremony of each Paralympic Games!
Whilst these are but a few of the high profile awards that have grabbed headlines both locally and internationally, South Africa’s record of Paralympic and other International conquests since re-admission in 1992is enviable - as it was prior to the isolation imposed in 1980. Unfortunately Paralympiads fly by inthe blink of an eye and I am not too sure that the exploits of South Africa’stop-line athletes with disabilities have ever been fully researched andrecorded? As we stand, the record would make for very impressive reading.
Sowhat am I saying? To go into battle with Generals of the calibre of Du Toit,Pistorius, Van Dyk and Situ, flanked by Lieutenants of the ilk of TebogoMokgalagadi, Tadhg Slattery, Philippa Johnson, Shireen Sapiro, Ilse Hayes,Hilton Langenhoven and a host of others, makes the prospects mouth watering.There will also be new stars who will start to shine and I predict that theSouth African flag and anthem will once again become a common sight and soundin the cauldron of the Paralympic Games in the East side of London. Barringpreparation, and depending on arriving injury free, I think that Team SouthAfrica can deliver as many as 35 medals in 2012! By the next edition of RI, wewill have a better understanding of just who has made the team and only then,can we start to decipher the combination of the predicted medal count.
Asthe London 2012 Paralympic Games approach at pace, I was saddened to hear ofthe passing of former SASAPD Executive Director, Menzo Barrish, who passed away 4th February 2011. He was a stalwart campaigner who walked many atightrope mile for sport for the disabled - particularly in the Apartheidyears. My take was kindly read out by my great friend, Corne Rossouw, at thefuneral:
“Menzo Barrish must always be remembered for the enormous role that heplayed in South African sport though more significantly, in the area forathletes with disabilities. His pioneering and diplomatic approach have oftenbeen underestimated and it is important that we remember at times like these,the level of a success story can only ever be measured on the vision that hadbeen cast as the bedrock.
It is truly fitting that, on the same day that we bid you farewell Menzo, acelebration marking 200 days to the London 2012 Paralympic Games is beingstaged by the British High Commission on board HMS Montrose in Simons Town – agentle reminder to us all of how big things start small and the roles thatvisionaries play.”
“Sleep well good friend!”