Gold, gold and more gold

“A dream is something that you set for yourself, not what other people set for you.”- Natalie du Toit

One of the most inspirational members of the South African Paralympics team, Natalie du Toit, won five gold medals – matching her Paralympic medal count in Athens in 2004 - and set four new World Records at the Beijing Paralympics.

Her last race was the 50m freestyle, which she said would be her toughest. She was the fastest qualifier and took the gold in a Paralympic Record time of 29.20 seconds, finishing just 0,13sec ahead of Russia’s Irina Grazhdanova.

“My race was to go out there and concentrate on the start and the finish and I think I got my finish right for once. My start was a little frustrating,” said du Toit.“I think right now it’s more the relief than thinking about five gold medals. It’s not really about the medals; it’s about going out there and doing personal best times. I’m happy with my performance.”She had earlier participated in the Olympic Games 10km Marathon Open Water event where she had been distracted by her swimming cap that kept coming off. She came in 16th in just over two hours fl at, 1 minute and 22 seconds behind the winner. Speaking of her phenomenal Paralympic results Natalie said “It is a relief after the disappointment of coming 16th. My goal here was getting the five golds so at least I got one of the two things right.” 16th place has also not dampened her hopes for London in 2012. “I’m going to go for both the 800m in the pool and the 10km for the Olympics; I’ve got four years to prepare for it.”

Natalie du Toit
Five gold Medals and four World Records:
100m Butterfly S9
100m Freestyle S9
400m Freestyle S9
200m Individual Medley S9
50m Freestyle S9 (Paralympic Record)

Charl Bouwer
One gold and one World Record
Men’s 400m Freestyle S13
Charl Bouwer was only 14 years old when he competed in his first Paralympic Games. Today, age 18 and with a gold medal and World Record behind him, he is also considering the possibility of competing against able bodied athletes.“It will take a lot of sweat and tears, but I have talked with Scott Field, swimming manager of the Paralympic team, and a former Paralympian himself, and I think I’ll give it a shot. I feel it is within my reach to try to qualify for the Olympics in London in 2012, just like Natalie du Toit did.”Natalie praised Charl saying: “When he was a youngster he had so much potential. I really thought a lot of him for being in Athens as a 14-year-old. So, for him to get out there and get gold was amazing.”His world record came as he was pushed to the finish by Ukraine’s Danylo Chufarov, winning by just 82 hundredths of a second. “The guy told me he was sick, so I wasn’t expecting that from him,” said Bouwer.Unfortunately the grade 11 learner could not continue his winning streak and had to be content with a sixthplace finish in the 100m freestyle S13 and a sixth in the 100m butterfly. Charl was pleased with his butterfly time reducing his personal best by five seconds to 1.01,27.Despite coming second in his heat and with the third fastest qualifier for the final he finished fourth in the Men’s 100m backstroke final. After winning gold and setting a World Record in the Men’s 400m freestyle (S13) Charl said “It has always been a dream to claim a gold medal at the Paralympics and to have claimed one in a world record time is a fantastic feeling and makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Kevin Paul
One gold and one World Record
Men’s 100m Breaststroke AB9
Kevin Paul was the fastest qualifier in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke heats – setting a World Record in the heat. So it was not surprising when he took gold in the final and set a new World Record, breaking his own World Record. The 17 year old learner from Grey High School was delighted with his time. “I had hoped for a 1:10 and got a 1:10:85.

“My coach and I had a game plan and I wasn’t concerned when I saw I was only third at the turn,” he said.A few day’s later in the Men’s 400m Freestyle, S10 Final, he battled with a groin injury to finish seventh. “This is my first Paralympics and I am very happy to have won gold.The fact that I have broken the world record has not sunk in yet.” – Kevin Paul after winning and setting a new World Record in the 100m Breaststroke S9

Shireen Sapiro
One gold and a World Record:
Women’s 100m Backstroke S9
Shireen Sapiro had a slow start in the 100m butterfly finishing in seventh place, but came back strongly and tied for both gold and a new World Record time with in the 100m Backstroke event and a World Record tie with Sophie Pascoe of New Zealand.

Tadhg Slattery
Bronze - 100m Breaststroke SB5
Tadhg Slattery has competed in five Paralympics games boasting two gold medals (Barcelona and Athens) and two silver (Atlanta and Sydney). He came out of retirement to take gold in Athens in the 100m breaststroke event and retired again. Will he retire after Beijing? “I think that I’ll continue swimming through to the Games in London in 2012, because I am still young.”The thrill of competing motivates him, not the lure of medals. “The highlights for me were Barcelona and Athens because I won gold medals in both those places. But I also loved Sydney, because the pool was awesome, and the service was really brilliant.” “I don’t feel like a father-figure in the South African team, but I do feel part of the Paralympic South African family. Everyone feels honoured to get to the Paralympics. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win a medal, because everyone will have their memories forever.”

Beth Nothling competed in the Women’s 50m Backstroke S5 and came seventh in the final.

Emily Gray swam in the Women’s 50m Backstroke S9, but although she came fourth in her heat, she finished seventh in the final.

Adri Visser failed to qualify for the finals in her events. She finished sixth in the heats for the 100m and 200m Freestyle and fifth in the 100m Breaststroke heats.

Sarah Shannon came seventh in the final of the Women’s 50m Freestyle final S3. She also reached the final in the 50m Backstroke S3, finishing sixth.

Shark attack survivor, Achmat Hassiem, failed to qualify for the 100m butterfly finals finishing in sixth place in the heats. “I’m a firm believer in being positive and setting goals,” he says. “If you put your mind to it, you can achieve the unbelievable.”

The Aquatics team coaches were Erika Menton and Theo Verster, and the manager, Scott Field.

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