Athens 2004 has come and gone. The athletes are back home and the public is getting more sleep as there is no need to stay up late to catch the events of the day late on television. But what are our athletes doing now? Danette Breitenbach went to find out.
Rolling Inspiration caught up with two of South Africa's favourite athletes; one a new figure and one a familiar figure.
No one will forget the picture of Oscar Pistorius stumbling and then giving the performance of his life in the 200m. With a time of 21,97 seconds he is the first amputee to run the distance in under 22 seconds and only two seconds short of the South African able bodied qualifying time for this event. So will we be seeing Oscar competing some time soon in able bodied events?
Sitting on a bench outside the main foundation in the grounds of Pretoria Boys High, Oscar looks just like all the other young boys around the school. He has been taking it easy since he got back from Athens, and will start training in earnest as soon as he has finished his exams. "I have missed three months of schooling so I am really concentrating on my studies right now."
Despite all the media attention Oscar is pleased that his friends still treat him as they did before his Paralympic victory. “They are still my buddies and nothing has changed.”
What has changed are his goals for the future. “I am looking forward to getting back into training. I set a benchmark for myself at Athens 2004 and I now want to work to exceed that. My next goal is able bodied running.”
And the Athens experience? “On a personal level you go through a number of emotions. You are under competition stress and with people you don’t know very well. This taught me tolerance. I learnt not to judge a book by its cover. You meet someone who is deaf and you start talking and you realise how much this person has to offer. I also made friends with some of the athletes from other countries, in particular from the USA. It will be nice to go to other international events in the future and know that you will see some of these people again.
“Athens, its people, the culture, the food and its nightlife were amazing. It is something you cannot describe but have to experience by going there. But at the end of the day you are there to do one thing: compete. I learnt this.”
So what makes him tick? He answers without hesitation, “My inspiration has always been and will always be other people’s achievements. There is no one specific person. I believe that if one person can do it then you can do it and do it better. People are too quick to make excuses. Excuses are often the only thing holding them back.”
While Oscar is just starting out on his athletics career, Athens 2004 was Fanie Lombaard’s third Paralympics. This time he broke the world record in the shot put for amputees at the opening of the track and field events. It was also his opening throw of the event.
Fanie said it was the best medal out of the 10 he has won over the years. It has changed his thoughts on retirement. After the Paralympics he said he would give it another two years and see how things go from there. “I still want to throw 14 metres,” he said at the time.
Now that he is back home what are his thoughts? “I am still doing well in my sport so I am going to see how its goes between now and Beijing. I will make the decision to participate in the Paralympics closer to the time. Also I will have to qualify and who knows?,” he laughs.
Fanie is a busy man. Since he has been back from Athens he has been concentrating on his work at Barloworld north of Pretoria and spending time with his family. “Training for Athens took a lot of my time and I right now I want to concentrate on my career at Barloworld and for the next few months my family are a priority.”
But his sport is not forgotten. “Yes I am still very involved. Right now I am enjoying coaching some able bodied and disabled youngsters. I get a thrill out of identifying new talent. I am thinking of taking my sport more in the direction of coaching and even administration. I think I could be a good administrator for disabled sports, although I might be too direct...but I have been to three Paralympics, and I know the pitfalls and I what it is like competing.”
Fanie has enjoyed every one of his three Paralympics, saying that every one offered a unique experience. He has also seen disabled sport change over these past 12 years.
“The first World Championships I went to the facilities were not great. The progress we have made is phenomenonal. Disabled athletes are recognised in their own right as athletes and many command big sponsorships and professional earnings.”
But it is this he believes South Africa needs to be aware of. “I do not believe that South Africa will ever bring the amount of medals from future Paralympics as they did from Sydney and Athens. With the professionalism being afforded to disabled athletes overseas, the competition level is being raised, and fast. Take the Chinese, they are supporting their athletes through government grants. We need to take note and follow this trend if we are to continue our previous successes.”
Fanie and Oscar were recently honoured by the Pretoria Junior Town Council. “At the end of the day the youth is what it is all about,” he states emphatically. About Oscar Fanie has this to say, “Oscar is going to be a superstar by the next Paralympics.”
Cover Boy! Oscar Pistorius outside Pretoria Boys High, reading the Rolling Inspiration Spring edition – featuring himself on the cover. Images by Touchline