Thursday was the quietest it has been so far for Team SA in terms of competitors at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, with two athletes in action. The weather, cold and wet, failed to dampen spirits, though – and there’s plenty to look forward to on Friday.
Ntando Mahlangu is the big name in action, even though he is still only 19. The gold medallist from the T63 men’s long jump last Saturday takes to the track in the event where he broke through at the Rio 2016 Games, the T41 200m.
In Rio he was only 14, but chased home the two-time gold medallist from Great Britain, Richard Whitehead. Now, five years later, roles will be reversed, with Mahlangu cantering to the gold medal, with the other four runners in the race running for silver and bronze. That is not to say that Mahlangu’s rivals won’t be running to the best of their ability, it’s more that he is in a class of his own over the distance and there are high expectations that he will break the world record and go under 23 seconds for the first time.
The South African has been focused all Games and his best is still ahead of him while Whitehead, at the age of 45, has been a marvellous Paralympian, but here he is handing over the guard. The Brit has to be congratulated for continuing through to Tokyo and giving Mahlangu the opportunity to take over the baton.
“I tend to do things in the moment,” Mahlangu said. “I’ve got a strategy for the race and am now at that stage where I’m racing against the clock as much as I am the opposition. I’ve got 23 seconds in which to execute my race. If I have a bad first five seconds for instance, I’m in the moment and trust the process enough to know that I’ve got 18 seconds to make things right.”
Those “five” and “18 seconds” equal 23.00. There’s every indication, though, that we are going to see a time in the high 22sec as he picks up his second gold of these Paralympics and Team SA’s fourth gold overall.
On Thursday, the two athletes in action were Sheryl James in the women’s 200m (T37) final and Toni Mould, in the women’s T1-2 cycling road race. James finished a creditable fifth in 13.67sec to cap off a successful Games for her where she made the final of the 100, 200 and 400m and won the bronze medal in the latter.
Mould finished eighth in the road race, just two days after coming 10th in the time trial at the Fuji Speedway circuit.
It was a happy James who spoke after her 100m final. “I’m happy with the performance, I enjoyed my last race in Tokyo, it was great fun. The whole experience has been amazing. I’m now going to go back to the farm, do some farming, ride my horse, walk my dog, carry on training and develop new athletes.”
IN ACTION ON FRIDAY
Men’s 400m (T62), final: Tebogo Mofokeng and Daniel du Plessi
Men’s 200m (T61), final: Ntando Mahlangu
Men’s 200m (T37), heats: Charl du Toit
Men’s 50m butterfly (S7): Christian Sadie
Women’s 50m backstroke (S4): Kat Swanepoel
Photo: Sheryl James, by Roger Sedres