The Olympics were the curtain-raiser . . .

2012-08-26 07:40

It’s not difficult to establish why South Africans just love their Paralympics team and are convinced that they will live up to their promise of bringing 40 or more medals back from London.

One does not have to look any further than the resounding send-off organised by LeadSA the team enjoyed at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday.

It is also no tough ask to urge South Africans to be glued to their television screens from Wednesday until Sunday, September 9, to watch the Games.

Since South Africa started competing at the Paralympic Games, our Paralympians have brought home no less than 251 medals over the years, while the Olympians have brought 76 since their first participation in 1904.

Passion, grit, bravery and humility are but a few words that have been used to describe South Africa’s Paralympian teams over years – and not without reason.

This is the team that brought back 30 medals from Beijing in 2008, 21 of them gold, taking the country’s tally to more than 100 gold.

So the statement by Andy Scott, deservedly known as Mr Paralympics, at the end of the Olympic Games that “we’ve had the curtain-raiser, now for the big show” can never be construed as a cheap boast.

Scott is one of the main characters behind the success of the team over the past few years.

And the presence of charismatic athletes such as Fanie Lombard, who won two medals in Beijing, a gold in the F42 discus and a bronze medal in the F42 shot putt, has also ensured that the team excels at Games after Games.

Lombard became an icon in 2000 when he led the way for South Africa with gold medals in the pentathlon, discus and shot put, as well as a silver medal in the javelin.

Zanele Situ, who at 41 is still in the current team, made history by becoming the first black South African athlete to win a Paralympic medal as she lifted gold in the javelin and silver in the discus at the Sydney Games in 2000.

She went on to successfully defend her javelin title in Athens four years later.

Scott’s story and association with the Paralympics is one of those heartwarming South African tales.

Since placing the country in the spotlight at the 1968 Games as a 15-year-old by becoming the youngest world record holder in Paralympic history, he has never looked back.

He contracted polio as a child, but he made the decision not to let a disease dictate his future and achieved this by becoming a world-class swimmer, shattering the 50m breaststroke record in Tel Aviv in 1968.

He went on to set 12 more records in the following years.

The former Disability Sport SA (Dissa) national sponsorship co-ordinator, who raised R120 million in sponsorships for the organisation, has many feathers in his cap.

The former National Paralympics Committee of SA CEO is now head of sponsorship at Nedbank and his heart is still very close to the Paralympians’ cause.

But now the baton has passed to Oscar Pistorious, Natalie du Toit, Situ and Hilton Langenhoven, who lead the team and the hopes of bringing back more medals.

As South African flag bearer Pistorius, who won three gold medals in Beijing, leads the 62-member team into the stadium on Wednesday, all 50 million-plus Mzansi citizens should stand up in unison and shout: “Jou lekker ding!”

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