By Mark Etheridge
All hail Hilton Langenhoven as he bounced back from track disappointment to grab South Africa’s second gold medal of the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
Langenhoven had been disqualified from the T12 400-metres semi-final for stepping outside of his lane but a leap of faith saw him go all the way.
He launched himself to a distance of 7.07 metres with his second attempt and even had the luxury of being able to take his final jump, safe in the knowledge that he had gold in his clutches.
Two centimetres separated silver and gold as Kamil Aliyev of Azerbaijan had a best of 7.05 on the night.
Now a veteran of four Paralympics, Langenhoven has had an up and down last two years. Even at last year’s African Games in Brazzaville, Congo, he was beaten by great mate and fellow Paralympian Jonathan Ntutu in the 200m.
But there was always a plan and he told this reporter shortly after the race as he received physiotherapy, that it was all part of a process.
That process worked to perfection and his gold now gives Team SA their second gold and second medal of the 2016 Paralympics.
‘We need to fight to get into this team,’ said Langenhoven. ‘There are only so many slots and once you are here you do your country proud, your team and your family.
‘I cried myself to sleep after the 400m disappointment but I knew I had to pull it together… it’s just so amazing to stand on top of the world again.. it was so close.
‘In 2012 there was no long jump so athletes focused on other events but now its back.
‘I knew one big jump would be able to do it but remember there’s only one medal winner. If I knew on Thursday evening that the Lord would give me a medal in the long jump I would have been happy.
‘The 400m was my main event and I had put everything into it but I’m just so proud now to do this for everyone! ‘
Said coach Raymond Julius: ‘Hilton was emotionally down after his 400m disqualification and it took quite a lot to pick him up again. When I saw him this morning he was very positive and managed to bounce back to win gold in the long jump.
‘We are very satisfied at this stage and are looking forward to the 200m. Like I said… sometimes good things fall apart so that better things fall together.’
Earlier, sprinters Charl du Toit (with a new world record) and Fanie van der Merwe blasted through to the final of the T37 100-metre track final.
Du Toit, the current world record holder in this event, won his heat, the second of two, in 11.42 to beat the time he set in Switzerland earlier this year by just 0.01sec while Van der Merwe was second in 11.52 but also doing enough to go through.
‘I’m completely surprised, just so unexpected with this,’ said Du Toit who dedicated the win and his record to his uncle Johan who passed away less than a week before he left for Rio after a shooting incident in a home robbery in Pretoria.
‘I just wanted to get through the heats… thank you so much to my coach Suzanne Ferreira and team-mates and all the medical staff in getting me here.
‘It’s been a tough start to the year but three weeks ago the joy started coming back in training.’
Du Toit, whose brain was starved of oxygen when his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck at birth, has to stay as relaxed as possible during races. ‘Otherwise my right arm tenses up and my right leg’s stride shortens.
‘The people in the crowd were amazing!!! And I really loved every second of the race!!! So yes it is time to take it easy for the rest of the day… because tomorrow is the one that really counts and oh yes, Oom Johan would have been proud hey…’
For a middle distance athlete making the transition to sprint events, Du Toit seems to be hitting all the right spots.
In the pool, neither South African swimmer made it through to the next stages.
In the first first heat of the SM13 200-metre Individual Medley, Alani Ferreira ended fifth and last in 2min 50.43sec. That saw the KwaZulu-Natal teenager ranked at 16 of 17 swimmers over the three heats. Still, two African records in two races isn’t half bad.
‘Today went a lot better,’ said Ferreira. ‘My nerves were more calm and I enjoyed the race a lot more and it reminded me why I love the sport. I did swim my second African record now so at least I have two of those so far (100 fly and 200IM) but now I’m ready for my main race on Sunday (100 breast) and I really want to push myself to see what I am capable of.’
Then, London Paralympics bronze medallist Shireen Sapiro also failed to go through as she ended fifth of seven swimmers in her heat of the S10 backstroke. That meant she was just one spot outside the qualifying mark as eight swimmers went through to the final. She was 0.72sec outside the slowest qualifying mark.