By Mark Etheridge
Anruné Liebenberg scorched to 400-metre track silver on Wednesday night to take Team South Africa’s medal tally to one short of double figures.
Running in the T45-46-47 classification (upper limb impairment) she repeated her feat from the last Paralympics in London four years ago.
Sure, the time may have been a full 2.03sec slower than London as she slowed drastically in the final straight but the Stellenbosch sprinter has extenuating circumstances… well, actually two of them!
Not once, but twice has she gone under the knife this year for knee operations and five months ago she didn’t even know if there was a place reserved for her in Rio. Never has the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ been so apt.
‘Phew, from November last year’s it’s been tough and just being here is actually a miracle. I really wanted to go out and get gold and a PB [Personal best] – that was most precious thing I wanted.
‘I went really hard in first 200 and then that last 100m I just didn’t have that extra bit of oomph, but I’m still proud of myself for having represented my country and already looking forward to the 200m on Thursday and Friday.
In the half-lapper she brought bronze back from London with a time of 25.55.
‘I’m truly just happy to be back on my feet… all that hard work and patience has paid off and and having my boyfriend [Stefan Weyers] here was very special too.’
As expected it was China’s Lu Li, the fastest athlete into the final, who took gold in a time of 58.09sec as she hauled in a leg-weary Liebenberg who clocked 58.88, almost two seconds ahead of Japan’s bronze medallist Sae Tsuji (1:00.62).
Despite Liebenberg’s medal, South Africa, who now have three gold, three silver and three bronze medals, have still slipped further down the medals table, from 23rd to 27th.
In the only other athletics finals involving South Africa, Zandile Nhlapo ended eighth in the F34 shot put with a 5.63m effort.
Heat action saw Jonathan Ntutu run 11.10 in the T12 100m heats and go through to the semi-finals. Likewise 200m silver medallist Ntando Mahlangu ran 12.70 for third in his T42 heat, also good for a semi-final slot.
In the canoeing there was heartache for Graham Paull, the man from Haenertsburg, Limpopo. He ended fourth in his KL1 200m heat and looked to have qualified for the semi-finals but his boat was discovered to be fractionally underweight at the weigh-in and meant a disqualification.
Out at Pontal, cyclists Ernst van Dyk and Justine Asher returned fifth places in the H5 and H2-3 time trials after Craig Ridgard had started off with 11th in the C2.
Final man in action was Goldy Fuchs who was ninth in the T-12 class.
Reflecting, Team SA cycle coach Ricky Kulsen said: ‘Ernst rode one of his best time trials ever but got beaten on the day by better riders. Had quite a bit of traffic on the corners with slower riders from.other classes although I doubt if it would have made that much difference. Tomorrow is his road race with a very technical finish. Tight U-Turn 150 m before the finish. The first three riders through the corner will contest the medals.’
In archery’s individual open compound division, Shaun Anderson did well to reach the round of 1/16 where he lost 129-144 to Great Britain’s Nathan Macqueen.
On to Thursday’s action and Team SA have aquatics, athletics and cycling representation.
Hendri Herbst is the sole swimmer in action as he goes off in the S11 100m freestyle. ‘I’m swimming my last event. Excited for the 100m freestyle. Let’s do this’, were the blind London bronze medallist’s thoughts ahead of his final race in Rio.
South Africa will be behind Herbst as this was the same race he medalled in four years ago.
Apart from Liebenberg, Ntutu and Mahlangu five other SA track and field athletes will compete.
Dyan Buis is in the long jump final (T38), the event he won bronze in four years ago, and Chenelle van Zyl goes in the F34 shot put final.
Charl du Toit, 100m gold medallist earlier in the games, lines up for the T37 400m heats while blind Bloemfontein runner Louzanne Coetzee is in the heats of the 1500m along with guide Khothatso Mokone.
Also in the field events is 2015 world F38 javelin champion Reinhardt Hamman.
Like bronze medal shot-putter Tyrone Pillay did, Hamman will be devoted his event to the memories of his dad, Louis who passed away in March this year.
‘Thirteen years of hard work, dedication and not giving up on a dream has come. I’m super excited and can’t wait to make everyone that supports me proud. I will be competing in memory of my dad.
‘There are a few surprises in the line up. Some guys that i have not heard of and some that have not thrown in years. That will be a great challenge for me. Rio 2016 has been an incredible experience so far.
‘Training has been going great and I can’t give away too much but make sure to watch the athletics.
‘It will need to be 50+ to win. My PB is 50.22 and the world record of 51.37m is 12 years old… it needs to be broken.’
Picture of Liebenberg on her way to silver is courtesy of Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA
Team SA in action on Thursday, 15 September
3.52pm Henri Herbst – 100m Freestyle S11
00.12am Henri Herbst – 100m Freestyle S11 (finals)
3.45pm Reinhardt Hamman Javelin F38 (final)
4.45pm Charl du Toit 400m T37 (heats)
5.43pm Louzanne Coetzee 1500m T11 (heats)
10.58pm Chenelle van Zyl Shot Put F35 (final)
11.10pm Ndodomzi Jonathan Ntutu – 100m T12 (final)
11.15pm Dyan Buis – Long Jump T38 (final)
11.17pm Ntando Mahlangu – 100m T42 (final)
11.33pm Anrune Liebenberg – 200m T47 (heats)
2.30pm Ernst van Dyk – Men’s road race H5 (final)
5.20pm Justine Asher – Women’s road race H2-4 (final)