With six Paralympics under his belt, the most in one sport by any South African, Tadhg Slattery has seen it all. On Wednesday evening he swam what he believes is his final Paralympic event, the 100m breaststroke (SB5 class).
After first getting into the water as part of therapy for cerebral palsy, he started swimming when he was seven, 33 years ago now. Ten years later he had earned South African colours and his first Paralympic Games came when he was just 20 years old, in Barcelona, 1992.
He has since won six Paralympic medals ÔÇô two of them gold, three silver and one bronze, all but one of them coming in the breaststroke. The only non-breastroke medal came in the Individual Medley.
To recognise his achievements and contribution to swimming in South Africa, Road to London 2012 put six questions to Tadhg on the final day of his Paralympic career.
Do you think you will be up for a seventh Games in Rio in 2016?
No! It’s is time for me to retire and the chapter will close after the final tonight. It’s time for me to get a new chapter and that will be coaching development disabled swimmers and to work with my coach Dean Price. I also need to spend more time with my partner Judy Kammeraat. My mind is strong but my body keeps telling me that it is tiring to keep going on with swimming since I’ve seven and until now when I’m 40 years old! It’s time to move on with new life and near future. I have promising young development disabled swimmers for 2016, 2020, 2024. I hope that I will be coaching for 2016.
Which are your favourite Paralympic Games that you have been to and why?
Barcelona, Spain where I won a gold medal and broke world record in my class. it was my first international and nobody know who I was. And then Athens, Greece┬áwhere I won the gold medal and beat my good competitor Kasper Engel (Netherlands) before he retired. Kasper and I swam against each other from 1992 till 2004.
How have you found the London Games compared to your previous five (in terms of village, competition venues, team spirit, standard of competition)?
I have found these London Games fantastic ÔÇô┬á inspired, massive, the best ever compared to previous Games, although it reminds me a bit of Sydney, Australia 2000. All the sport venues are close to the Paralympic Village. The village is the best ÔÇô the apartment is close to the main dining hall and transport area and a small shopping centre. iI is perfect for Team SA. Also the volunteers here are really friendly, helpful. The aquatics pool is the best and the crowds are best with their noise as they support us swimming.
If and when you stop swimming competitively what will you do?
I will definitely stop swimming competitively forever but I will still be swimming to keep myself fit. I am now coaching and want to study further in swimming coach. I have qualified for my Level 1 Fina Certificate and need up to Level 4(Professional Coaching). I will be working with my best coach Dean and help able-bodied and disabled swimmers to be a success in the future.
Who is your favourite Paralympian of all time and what is your personal Paralympic highlight?
My favourite hero is Terence Parkin, He is my good friend. We┬á text each other just about daily to see what is happening with our training. He motivated, supported me all the way to the London Paralympics. My own Paralympic highlight is Athens where I won gold and sang the national anthem in sign language.
How has the standard of competition increased from when you were at Barcelona in 1992?
I have definitely noticed every four years, the standard get higher and higher and higher. These Games, you can see that everyone from all over the world has been training very, very, very, very hard to win medals at these Games.