Conquerers all

accreditation
0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 28: Ntando Mahlangu of Team South Africa competes in the Menâ??s Long Jump - T63 Final on day 4 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 28: Ntando Mahlangu of Team South Africa competes in the Menâ??s Long Jump - T63 Final on day 4 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

At the recently completed Tokyo Paralympics, Team South Africa did themselves and the country proud by joining their international counterparts to show that the human spirit can conquer physical disabilities.

They were part of more than 4 000 athletes who competed in more than 500 medal events despite their challenges and the persistent threat of Covid-19. And, by bringing home seven medals, including four golds, the South African athletes demonstrated why they deserve to be supported better.

There is seemingly a need for greater backing from government and the private sector in order for the para-athletes to progress, not unlike the situation in many other countries, especially in the developing world where resources are limited.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 01: Charl du Toit of Sout
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 01: Charl du Toit of South Africa in the final of the mens 400m T37 during the morning session of athletics on Day 8 of the Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on September 01, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

As Team SA’s experienced 400 metre runner Charl du Toit said about the Tokyo experience: “It’s great having the support, but we’d love it to be throughout the three-year cycle [to Paris 2024] — don’t let this be a hit-and-run approach.

“We need to see sustainability when it comes to support and for the next three years heading into Paris it’s important.”

"Begging hands will continue to be stretched out, for sure, considering that Olympic athletes also have trouble getting adequate back-up for their development in South Africa."
Carl Peters

The much-appreciated sizeable list of sports codes offered to Paralympians in Tokyo were archery, athletics, badminton, boccia, canoeing, cycling (track and road), equestria, football five-a-side, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, volleyball (sitting), wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.

It is fairly easy to tell that much greater administrative and financial power will be required to have South Africans compete favourably in even half of these codes in future.

Begging hands will continue to be stretched out, for sure, considering that Olympic athletes also have trouble getting adequate back-up for their development in South Africa.

This was highlighted by The Witness last month after South Africa’s poor showing at the Tokyo Olympic Games, with the general feeling being that natural talent can take athletes only so far. Getting the right support, especially financial, would enable them to be full-time athletes, and so concentrate more on their performance. Being full-time athletes would help them get the right level of coaching and access more global competitions, according to commentators.

The situation seems to be even more difficult for Paralympians.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 03: Kat Swanepoel of Sout
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 03: Kat Swanepoel of South Africa in the womenâ??s 50m backstroke S4 during day 10 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on September 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 04: Mpumelelo Mhlongo of
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 04: Mpumelelo Mhlongo of South Africa runs a new world record in the heats of the mens 200m T64 race but in class T44 during the morning session of athletics on Day 11 of the Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on September 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Pietermaritzburg swimmer Alani Ferreira and Pinetown all-rounder Mpumelelo “Mpumi” Mhlongo were part of Team SA at the Tokyo Paralympics, while the more experienced Ntando Mahlangu was arguably the star of the show.

He claimed gold in the 200 m T61 category and in the long jump T63 event.

Athletes are classified according to their disability, allowing for as many of them as possible to participate alongside similar athletes in the broadest list of events altogether compiled by the organisers.

Mahlangu’s inspirational story has been part of the Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix about the Paralympic movement and what the concerned people say is possible “when we push the limits of human movement, emphasising that disability is not inability”.

Because of a condition known as congenital hemimelia, Pretoria-born Mahlangu spent a large portion of his young life in a wheelchair and he had both of his legs amputated through the knee.

He got his first set of prosthetic blades in September 2012, and now, at the age of 19, he has plenty of medals and some records to show for his endeavours in athletics.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 04: Anrune Weyers of Sout
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 04: Anrune Weyers of South Africa after the womenâ??s 400m T47 final during the evening session of athletics on Day 11 of the Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on September 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Two other experienced South Africans scored gold — Anrune Weyers (29) in the women’s 400 m T47, and Pieter du Preez (41) in the men’s H1 cycling time trial — suggesting that if young athletes were exposed to more competition at as young an age as possible, more medals would come South Africa’s way, along with international applause for having such a focus.

KwaZulu-Natalian Mhlongo is also an exceptional character. He matriculated with seven distinctions, achieving academic honours cum laude, from Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill in 2012. He was head of house, head of the acclaimed Kearsney College choir which won gold at the World Choir Games and captain of the school’s second soccer team.

“It’s going to become harder and harder and harder to compete at this level if you’re not a full-time professional athlete, especially in the classes where we have a lot of depth and a lot of competition.”



“It’s going to become harder and harder and harder to compete at this level if you’re not a full-time professional athlete, especially in the classes where we have a lot of depth and a lot of competition.”
Ernst van Dyk

He speaks six languages — English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, French and Portuguese — and is a five-time Sportsperson of the Year at the University of Cape Town, where he studied for a PhD in chemical engineering, focusing on converting recycled plastic to diesel, according to publicist Sue Miles.

By clocking 22,81 seconds in Tokyo, he bettered his own world record in the heats of the men’s 200 m T44 class, which he set in Stellenbosch in 2019.

“I wanted to appreciate being here [Tokyo] … being alive and appreciating the competition,” he said after the race.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 03: Tebogo Mofokeng and D
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 03: Tebogo Mofokeng and Daniel du Plessis of South Africa in the final of the mens 400m T62 during the evening session of athletics on Day 10 of the Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on September 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 29: Puseletso Michael Mabote
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 29: Puseletso Michael Mabote of South Africa in the heats of the mens 100m T63 during day 5 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 31: Dyan Buis of South Afric
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 31: Dyan Buis of South Africa after in the mens 400m T38 final during day 7 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 04: Tyrone Pillay of Sout
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 04: Tyrone Pillay of South Africa in the mens shot put F63 final during the evening session of athletics on Day 11 of the Tokyo2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on September 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 03: Christian Sadie of So
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 03: Christian Sadie of South Africa in the mens 50m butterfly S7 during day 10 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on September 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 01: Bronze medalist Shery
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 01: Bronze medalist Sheryl James of Team South Africa poses on the podium at the medal ceremony for the Womens 400m - T37 on day 8 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 01, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 30: Silver medalists Louzann
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 30: Silver medalists Louzanne Coetzee and guide Erasmus Badenhorst of Team South Africa react during the womens 1500m - T11 medal ceremony on day 6 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 30, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Super-populated China, which is now a richer country than ever before, claimed a total of 207 medals, of which 96 were gold, to finish at the top of the medals’ table for the Tokyo Paralympics, ahead of the United States, Britain and Russia.

The still developing country of Azerbaijan bagged a solid 19 medals to take 10th spot, while India, another country making economic strides next to China, also left Tokyo with 19 medals and was 24th on the table.

Cyclist Ernst van Dyk, one of South Africa’s best known Paralympians, summed up the challenge while talking to the media: “One thing I’ve come to realise is that the level of sport in the Paralympic movement is getting higher all the time.

“It’s going to become harder and harder and harder to compete at this level if you’re not a full-time professional athlete, especially in the classes where we have a lot of depth and a lot of competition.”

Many stories of inspiration have come out of Tokyo and even more will be produced in South Africa in future should the athletics community succeed in its search for elusive funding to cater for a much larger set of athletes than is currently the case.

• Carl Peters is sports editor of The Witness.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Daily Poll
Do you know who the ward councillor in your area is?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
44% - 163 votes
No
56% - 207 votes
Vote

E-Editions

Read the digital editions of Witness here.
Read now