In the next installment of our series looking back at Rio 2016, we relive the day exactly four years ago when Zanele Situ won a bronze medal for Team SA at the Paralympic Games.
Sixteen years after she became the first black woman to win a Paralympic gold medal for South Africa, Zanele Situ rolled on to a podium again, winning bronze in the javelin on a warm, sticky night in Rio.
Except that for much of the competition, she didn’t know that she was in bronze medal position. Situ thought she was fourth.
Situ was competing in a combined class: F54, her category, and F53, the more severely disabled. A complicated equation of points and handicaps decides who wins.
“After the first round I thought I was fourth and I was out of the medals. So in the second round I was just trying my best. I didn’t go to check my position. I was giving everything,” said Situ, who was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony.
It was her fourth Paralympic medal, her third in the javelin, her favourite event. It was an all-African podium in the javelin, with Nigeria’s Flora Ugwunwa claiming the gold with a world-record throw of 20.25m. Hania Aidi of Tunisia, sporting blue hair, took home silver. For Situ, the medal was sweet reward on her fifth and possibly last Paralympics. At the age of 45, she has two gold and a bronze in the javelin, and a silver in discus.
For a while, it looked as though Situ might take home gold. Her third throw of the night was her best, and broke the Paralympic record with a 17.90-metres effort. Situ’s path to the Paralympics began when she was 12, after she became paralysed from the fourth vertebrae down with what is believed to have been a TB infection. One day she began feeling week. A few days later, she could not walk.
Now, at 45, she is the oldest Paralympian in team.
Original report: Kevin McCallum, Independent Media.