By Mark Etheridge
While ‘veteran’ Kevin Paul predictably grabbed the glory (and the headlines) with breaststroke gold on Thursday’s opening day of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, two Team South Africa’s debutants were delighting in their own opportunities.
Paul won Team SA’s first medal of the Games but over at the athletics track, North-West’s Liezel Gouws (track) and Mpumi Mhlongo both experienced their first taste the Paralympics as they competed in the T37 and T44 categories respectively.
Gouws clocked 14.88 in the 100-metre heats to qualify for the final while Mhlongo’s 11.33, also in 100m heat action, wasn’t enough to see him progress.
But that didn’t detract one iota from the satisfaction factor.
‘It was a great experience,’ says Gouws, a product of the Hoërskool Wesvalia. ‘The 100m isn’t my strongest item as I’m focusing more on the 400 which we’ll run on the 12th and 13th but the 100m was a great ice-breaker.
‘My mindset was just to get in there and experience my first Paralympic race, run with joy and just take in how blessed I am to be here and run against the world’s best and showcase my God-given talents.
‘I qualified with a season’s best so I’m also very happy about that. And, after last year’s injury and subsequent operation that saw me missing both World Championships and African Games, it’s just a miracle that I’m here so I’m blessed with the privilege of racing Friday’s finals.
‘I’m trusting God has something awesome planned and I’m looking forward to what’s in store.’
As for Mhlongo, like Gouws, the sprint isn’t his premier event, that’s the long jump later in the Games.
‘It’s been a tough year for me juggling my final year in Chemical Engineering and attempting to prepare for one of the world’s biggest events,’ said the product of Kearsney College in KwaZulu-Natal.
‘Either way, what I can tell you for sure is that, I enjoyed every moment of that race. I felt as though I got out very well and my leg just could not hold the speed I generated.
‘Next year will be a different year for the sprints as I am currently getting even more blessings than I deserve to work with the innovative Johan Snyders.
‘Most importantly, I could not be more excited to watch Arnu [Fourie] do us proud once again on Friday but it will be the last time I watch from the sidelines.
Named University of Cape Town’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, he’s raring to go. ‘I can only hope to draw more inspiration that will allow me to enjoy long jump more than the 100m because it is my chance at soaring and having fun in the sandpit without any judgement.’
Team SA in action on Friday (9 Sep)
Heats: 3.22pm (SA time) Shireen Shapiro – 50m Freestyle S10
3.27pm (SA time) Henri Herbst – 100m Backstroke S11
4.01 (SA time) Emily Gray – 400m Freestyle S9
11.54pm (SA time) Shapiro – 50m Freestyle S10
00.16am (SA time) Herbst – 100m Backstroke S11
00.59 (SA time) Gray – 400m Freestyle S9
10.36pm (SA time) Liezel Gouws – 100m T37 final
1.00am (SA time) Arnu Fourie – 100m T44 final
Final: 9.30pm (SA time) Dane Wilson – Individual kilo C4-5
4pm (SA time) Evans Maripa – Men’s singles WT
4pm (SA time) Leon Els – Men’s singles WT
4pm (SA time) Lucas Sithole – Quad’s singles WT01-04
Heats: 1.30pm (SA time) Sandra Khumalo AS Women’s tx
3.30pm (SA time) Willie Morgan, Shannon Murray, Lucy Perold, Dylan Trollope, Dieter Rosslee LTA mixed 4+