Today signals the 500-day mark to the 2012 London Paralympic Games which is set to become the biggest Games yet in terms of competitors, audience and profile.
In the countdown to the Games, South Africa’s top Paralympians underlined their commitment to produce podium finishes in London when they laid down markers at the IPC World Championships and the Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled in the first three months of this year.
Both championships revealed a strong cast of medallists for the 2012 Paralympics.
Double gold medallists Oscar Pistorius and Ilze Hayes, as well as Teboho Mokgalagadi and Hilton Langenhoven produced winning performances in Christchurch in January while Anrune Liebenberg, Mncedi Khanti, Fanie van der Merwe, Zanele Situ, Pieter du Preez and Jonathan Ntutu, among others, contributed to the South African team’s total medal haul.
Back home, the team members also dominated the podium in Rustenburg last month.
After winning the 100m, 200m and long jump T35, Mokgalagadi also shaved a full 19 seconds off his previous 400m SA record. The 27-year-old Free State sprinter ran a fast 1:04.45 at Olympia Park, finishing just 0.03 seconds off the current world record.
ÔÇ£I’m very close to world record times in the 100m and 200m and I know I can run the 400m in under a minute,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£I know I can win. I’m going to London for three gold medals and I’ll devote the next 500 days to make sure it happens.ÔÇØ
Double leg amputee sprinter Pistorius echoed Mokgalagadi’s sentiments. ÔÇ£The Paralympics may be 500 days away, but in an athlete’s world it is a short time,ÔÇØ said the double world champion. ÔÇ£We all want to bring back gold, so the serious work starts now.ÔÇØ
The country’s top swimming Paralympians also cleaned up at Hillcrest Pool in Pretoria where Shireen Sapiro, Emily Gray, Achmat Hassien and rising star Tezna Abrahams dominated the podium.
Chef de mission Paralympics 2012, Pieter Badenhorst, is confident that South Africa will be sending one of its strongest teams in years to compete in London.
ÔÇ£The 2012 Paralympics is set to become the world’s most incredible sporting event next year,ÔÇØ said Badenhorst. ÔÇ£Spectators will descend upon 20 competition venues across the United Kingdom to watch 20 Paralympic sports involving participants from 163 competing nations.
ÔÇ£We are confident that our athletes are well down the line in their preparation. There is no doubt that we have a number of world-class multi-medal winning athletes who have the potential to produce the country’s largest medal haul in years.
ÔÇ£We are also excited about a number of talented, emerging athletes who could potentially step up and challenge alongside our top Paralympians.ÔÇØ
The UK is further committed to host the most accessible Games ever, to ensure as many people as possible can enjoy the spectacle of the Games and has subsequently incorporated disability access into the design and structure of all the buildings, open spaces and public transport for 2012.
Team South Africa’s preparation for the Paralympic Games 2012 is financially made possible by the following Paralympic sponsors: Mercedes Benz, Nedbank, National Lottery, Pick n Pay, Sasol, Sport and Recreation SA, Sun International, Telkom and Vodacom.