Girl Power

At last year's IPC World Swimming Championships held in Durban, South African swimming stars Shareen Sapiro and Handri de Beer each won a bronze medal. Sapiro produced her result in the women’s S10 100 metres backstroke and De Beer hers in the women’s S12 400 metres freestyle.

This year, both swimmers delivered good performances in the water. In April, de Beer and Sapiro took part in the Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled held in Germiston, Gauteng.

Swimming at the Delville Pool behind the Germiston Athletics Stadium, de Beer and Sapiro both won the women’s 100 metres freestyle in their individual classes. De Beer clocked a time of 1:14.08, while Sapiro swam a time of 1:11.15. De Beer also won the women's 200 metres freestyle in a time of 2 minutes 38 seconds, beating Central Gauteng's Adri Visser, who swam a time of 3:13.

Both de Beer, a visually impaired swimmer, and Sapiro, who has only partial movement of her abdominal muscles, have been named in the provisional Paralympic squad to compete in Beijing next year.

24-year-old De Beer, a Pretoria university student, swims in the classification S12 for visually impaired athletes. The bronze she won in the 400 metres freestyle in Durban last year was her first world championship medal.

Sapiro’s coach at the IPC Swimming Championships, Theo Verster, is highly impressed with his swimmer’s progress. He said of her 2006 performance, “Shareen showed big match temperament that’s seen her into this team, and this kind of performance can only bode well for the Paralympics in two years’ time.” (Picture:Handri de Beer - It’s going to be rising star Handri de Beer’s first Paralympics in 2008.)

Verster, a two times Olympic qualifier, who held the world record for 200m Butterfly and 200m Individual Medley, has continued training Sapiro since the IPC Swimming Championships. “She has improved remarkably since I first started working with her a few weeks before the Championships in Durban.

“One of her key events is the 50 m backstroke. In Durban she swam a 37 second race. More recently she swam a 35 second race, which is one second faster than the winning time in Durban.”

Since the Durban IPC event, Sapiro has performed so well that she has swum herself into the top 10.

“Her progress has had a snowball effect. She works very hard, she knows what is required and she understands the process of attaining her goals. She gobbles up everything in terms of training that we throw at her. She is very dedicated and focused.”

Verster began coaching disabled swimmers two years ago when he started training Tadhg Slattery. “My dad was visually impaired so I grew up understanding disability. I enjoy coaching my swimmers. Once athletes are in the water they are all alike. They are neither able-bodied nor disabled.”

Handri de Beer

Handri is a student at the University of Pretoria studying BA Sports Science, and has been swimming competitively since 1999.

“I was a middle distance athlete before I took up swimming. I tore some ligaments during a run. My doctors said I should rather do a sport that does not put pressure on my ankle. So I began swimming for myself at the gym. The coach of the swim squad saw me and invited me to join them.”

With a number of successful swims under her belt, and her recent performance at the Nedbank Championships, she is now training for Beijing. “I was happy with my performance at the Nedbank Championships, considering that I had been ill and it affected my training,” says Handri. “On the day, I swam my heart out regardless. I don’t think I swam my best, but I wasn’t expecting to. Since then, I have taken some time off to plan my training going forward. Now, it is all about being ready for Beijing.”

When she trains, she doesn’t just get in the pool. She has a goal and is very disciplined about her training. But she says swimming is also supposed to be fun. “It allows me to achieve my goals, teaches me something new all the time, and provides me with balance in my life. I love swimming.”

Provisional swim squad named

Swimming legend Natalie du Toit sprint sensation Oscar Pistorius have been nominated to spearhead the South African squad at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. The provisional Paralympic squad must still be ratified by SASCOC.

Du Toit is joined by Handri de Beer, Shareen Sapiro, Emily Gray and Adri Visser. De Beer and Sapiro won bronze medals at the Durban IPC Championships, while Gray and Visser performed well at the Nedbank Championships.

Veteran medallist Tadhg Slattery will swim in possibly his last Paralympics in Beijing. The 35 year-old is a five-time Paralympic medallist, having won a gold medal at Barcelona, silver at Atlanta and Sydney and gold at Athens. Slattery won two gold medals on the opening day of the Nedbank Championships in April. He will be joined by a host of young stars, including Charl Bouwer, Tiaan du Plessis, Hendrik van der Merwe and Sibusiso Mogale. (Picture:Tadhg Slattery - Veteran medallist Tadhg Slattery will compete in his 5th Paralympics in Beijing next year.)

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