By Mark Etheridge
Serenaded by top singers, saluted by an Olympic gold medallist and inspired by the Sports Minister, Team SA were given a splendid send-off to the Paralympics at a banquet in Sandton on Monday.
The team head for the 2012 London Olympics on Tuesday for the Paralympics which begin on 29 August and end on 9 September.
One of the songs song by Arno Carstens was titled “You can’t fly with broken wings”, particularly apt for the Paralympians have had to deal with so much adversity in their bid to make London 2012.
But this team of 62 will be looking to fly out and emulate the class of Beijing 2008 which brought back 30 medals, 21 of them gold.
Starting proceedings, SASCOC CEO Tubby Reddy expressed confidence in the team’s ability. “A few years ago there were detractors who wondered if SASCOC could embrace the Paralympics as well as the Olympics but we’re confident.
“Most if not all, of this team are ranked in the top four or five in the the world in their event and I urge the public to get behind them.”
Adding fuel to the fire was SASCOC President Gideon Sam. “When the Paralympic flame is extinguished after the 2012 Games the victory flames will be lit across South Africa. This team gathered here tonight will make South Africa proud and will fight to improve on their last haul.”
Sam also announced that Paralympic legend Oscar Pistorius will be the Team SA flagbearer at the opening ceremony.
Speaking from Italy where he’s currently at a training camp, Pistorius said: “This will be something I’ll privilege for the rest of my life. Let’s bring back those medals.”
A surprise speaker was ace swimmer Cameron van der Burgh who started our Olympic team’s medal haul in London just over three weeks ago.
“I’m not going to try and motivate you guys. I have so much respect for you guys already and you have proved you have what it takes. If anything we should be taking notes from you guys!
“I’m definitely one of your biggest supporters and will be watching you guys on TV. Go and do South Africa proud.”
Last speaker, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula was, as usual, full of praise for the nation’s sportsmen and women.
“Oscar Pistorius and Natalie du Toit have already shown us by previous performances that they are humanity at its best. And in fact, Parliament will take time on the 28th of this month to salute our sportsmen and women
“The Paralympians have never disappointed us and you all deserve your special place.”