By Mark Etheridge
Golden boy Oscar Pistorius put the seal on Team South Africa’s 2012 Paralympic Games campaign in style on Saturday night as he successfully defended his 2008 T44 400-metre title.
Much had been made of the impending battle between the Bladerunner and the man who had beaten him in the 200m final, Alan Oliveira of Brazil.
But this time there was no room for debate as Pistorius blasted off the bend to run a Paralympic record of 46.68 seconds with a victory margin of more than three seconds.
Oliveira faltered down the main straight and ended out of the medals in fourth spot (51.59) as Americans Blake Leeper and David Prince took second and third.
ÔÇ£It was very, very special to win the last track and field event of London 2012,ÔÇØ said Pistorius.ÔÇ£It’s my 11th time on this track and I wanted to give the crowd something special that they could take home with them.
“I’ve had quite a few nerves but the crowd kept me going and for the first time I was thinking about something apart from my race coming into the home straight.
Gold for Pistorius meant that South Africa end these Paralympics with 29 medals, one less than in Beijing four years ago.
Five of those medals came on the final day with South African participation. The total tally was made up of eight gold, 12 silver and nine bronze. That put them 17th on the medal table with just the road marathon cycle scheduled for the closing day of competition.
After Dyan Buis got the medal chase underway with silver in the morning (T38 200m sprint), two of South Africa’s medals came in less than an hour on Saturday as first Fanie van der Merwe snatched gold in the T37 100m final and then Anrun├® Liebenberg took silver in the T46 400m final.
Van der Merwe made up for his disastrous 200m where he failed to medal. And he made up for it in spectacular fashion as he dived across the line to win in 11.51 seconds and beat his own world record by 0.01sec.
He ended up sprawled on the track as did runner-up (with the same time) Yongbin Liang of China.
“I knew a normal dip wouldn’t do it,” grinned Van der Merwe after returning from being treated for grazes to both hands, knees and elbows.
“So I went for the dive, the Chinese guy was just there all the time so I knew a dive was the only way I was going to win it. I didn’t know I had it until I saw the replay on the big TV screen.”
Then Liebenberg ran the best race of her life when she stormed to silver behind the flying Cuban Yunidis Castillo in the 400m. “I was very nervous in my starting blocks but then I just told myself that this is my passion and that’s why I was here so I calmed down a bit.
“And you can see why I shouted so loudly after my race! I ran 56.65 and my personal best was 58.08 so that was a huge bonus. Yunidis is an amazing athlete and it is an absolute privilege to run against her. She’s brilliant.”
Once again she featured “Pietie” the little face she drew on her stunted left arm when she ran to bronze in the 100m. “Yes he was here tonight but I left my pen at home so I had to borrow a pen to give him some hair.”
But it wasn’t all good news for Team SA as Hilton Langenhoven relinquished his Paralympic title in the T12 200m final. He ended fourth and last in 22.29. But he took defeat well. “The standard is up the 200m since Beijing. I’m just honoured to have been part of this team and represent my country on the highest level. But there’s still Rio in four years time…”
The last swimming event featuring a South African saw Kevin Paul snatch silver in the S9 100m final.
Defending champion from Beijing four years ago, Paul swam to a 1:05.70 second spot behind Russian Pavel Poltasvet (1:04.02).
Humble as ever, Paul gave credit to his victor. “Four years ago he wasn’t on the scene, then he became disabled and broke my record so I’ve actually been lucky to have chased someone for the last four years. It’s always easier to motivate yourself if you have to chase someone.
“He broke my record then I took it back and thought that I had caught up again but now he’s done it again.
“Obviously no-one trains for second but the way I look at it, so many people leave here with nothing to show. At least I have a medal to show my kids one day.”
And Paul is another South African athlete all too aware of how the bar has been raised. Before Beijing the world record was 1:10, now it’s 1:04. In Beijing you could make the final with a 1:15, now you need 1:11.”
He went on to thank his coach, Olympic governing body SASCOC, his family and the entire Port Elizabeth community for the continual support in his build-up.
“And Oscar Pistorius, Natalie du Toit and Tadhg Slattery have done so much to increase the belief in disabled sport, now it’s up to myself and Charl Bouwer and Achmat Hassiem to take the momentum forward.”
There was also a little bit of trivia surrounding his dormitary in Heritage House back in the Paralympic Village. “All four of us won medals, myself, Charl, Hendri Herbst and Achmat so that’s one for the books.”