Paralympians welcomed back

2004-10-01 12:42
Johannesburg - Cheers and some tears greeted the South African Paralympic team when they arrived home from the Paralympic Games in Athens on Friday.

As the athletes emerged from Customs, the large and enthusiastic crowd at Johannesburg International Airport spontaneously broke into "Shoshaloza", and the athletes were swamped by well-wishers, as well as photographers and television cameras.

Among those at the airport to welcome the Paralympians was the Minister in the Office of the President, Essop Pahad, who said the athletes had made all of South Africa proud.

He said President Mbeki had expressed his profound satisfaction with the team and their remarkable achievements.

"What particularly impressed me in Athens was the warmth and spirit of the Paralympians," he said. "The team spirit was wonderful."

South Africa finished 13th overall on the medals table, and fourth in athletics. The Chef de Mission, Alison Burchell, said that while the number of medals was down from Sydney - 35 against 38 - the quality of medals had improved. Ten of the 15 gold medals had been achieved with world records, and three with Paralympic records.

Burchell said if South Africa wanted to do well at the next Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008, they needed to start preparing almost immediately.

Ready for 2008

She pointed out that China, who won the most medals in Athens, had already started preparing for the Beijing Games.

"The Chinese were selecting people as young as eleven in their team, so that by the time they got to Beijing, they would be ready," she said.

"I can't begin to imagine how well the Chinese will do in front of their home crowd in 2008.

"What we need to do is to give our athletes the correct support, and involve them in a Paralympic squad as soon as possible. They also need more international competition of European standard.

"Of the top ten countries in Paralympics, five are from Europe, so we need to send as many of our athletes to compete in Europe."

Meanwhile the South African Sports Commission has sent a message of congratulations to the Paralympics Team. CEO Joe Paahla said their outstanding performance at the Games showed the team's hard work and dedication in preparing for the Paralympics.

"The South African nation welcomes the team's victory as a restoration of our dignity and confidence. Be assured that the entire nation is proud of you," said Paahla.

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