Natalie 'one of SA's greatest'

2004-10-01 14:01
Johannesburg - Natalie du Toit is one of the greatest athletes in South African history.

That is the view of the Minister in the Office of the President, Essop Pahad, who was at Johannesburg International Airport on Friday to welcome the South African Paralympic team home from the Paralympic Games in Athens.

Du Toit, a swimmer who had a leg amputated after a road accident, was South Africa's most successful athlete at the Games, winning five gold medals and a silver.

She described the Paralympics as "an awesome experience".

"You go there, and you see people who have no arms or no legs, and you see what they can do. And I looked at myself and thought, 'you've only lost half a leg, and you can pretty much walk.' And it makes you want to really compete and do well," she said.

Du Toit confirmed that her premier goal was still to qualify for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. She said that if she had any message for able-bodied and disabled athletes, it would be to work hard and believe in themselves.

"Hard work always pays off, in whatever you do. What you need to do is be the best that you can be."

Another athlete singled out by Pahad was the double amputee, Oscar Pistorius. The Pretoria schoolboy won the 200m in a world record time of 21.97 seconds, although he was competing in a race for single amputees. He also won the bronze medal for the 100m in the world record time (for double amputees) of 11.16 seconds.

Pistorius said that because of the lack of competition for people with his disability, he would have to compete against able-bodied runners. The Grade 11 learner said his first priority after the Games in Athens was to go back to school and catch up on the work he had missed.

"But I am also looking forward to the Paralympics in Beijing," he said. "I think the competition there will be tremendous. The benchmark has been raised in Athens, and I definitely think the standards are going to be raised a lot more before Beijing."

Pahad said it was time that the Paralympics were given greater recognition.

"It is critically important that we intensify the struggle to bring sports for athletes with disabilities into the mainstream, so that they can be recognised for what they are," he said.

"They are great, great South African athletes, who do us proud. Being with them has been an inspiration to me."

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