Here’s how they do one-upmanship in the South African Paralympian team. When Pieter Badenhorst, the chef de mission for the London Olympics, was told that Samkelo Radebe, the double-arm amputee sprinter, had been bragging of how he had lost his arms after 11 000 volts had coursed through his body, he laughed.
“Please, man, I did 22 000 volts,” said Badenhorst, also a double-arm amputee. “I know a guy who had 44 000 volts through him.”
Radebe and Badenhorst are both sprinters, with the former attending his first Paralympic games at the end of August and the latter his sixth. Badenhorst is a multiple Paralympic medallist, while Radebe is favourite in the 100 metres, continuing a strong tradition of South African sprinters at the Paralympics.
Radebe was nine when he lost his hands, flying a kite too close to a power line that had sagged lower to the ground than it should have.
For a nine-year old it was just a playground: “I was being smart, ‘inventing’ things. Turns out you can lose your hands when you invent things. I was in the street playing.
“I think the 11 000 volts was enough to power 48 homes or so. I wanted to see if I was Superman and could carry the load (of electricity), and I did.
“Well, I lost a few hands here and there, but, hey I carried the load. I was super strong. I was Superman.”
Not having hands made Radebe’s early life tricky, particularly when it came to playing other sports: “I was always a sporty person.
“I played football at school. After I lost my hands I wanted to be a goalkeeper. And I was. And my team sucked. They always scored goals from the centre.
“I always said it wasn’t me, it was my defenders. It’s always the defenders. When I left they started doing well, and when I wanted to come back they said I couldn’t. That’s when I decided to concentrate on athletics.”
Badenhorst was six when he came across a power line that been blown over on a farm.
He thought the cable was a rope, and lost his left arm and his lower right arm. Disabled sport became the outlet for a youngster who wanted to run and run, giving him a chance to be a superman.
These will be his third Paralympics as an administrator-manager and he says the buzz is no less than as an athlete. He is a popular choice as the chef de mission having acted as the deputy chef at the Beijing Games.
“I’m glad I’m still involved. For me it’s one of the highlights of my life every four years.
“It’s such a pleasure to be involved. This is my fourth one as an athlete or in some form of management. It’s such a wonderful event. I’m even looking forward to the one in four years time,” said Badenhorst, who balances his Paralympic duties with a full-time job.
“I think my favourite Games was Barcelona in 1992. We had just come out of isolation and the scale of it was slightly overwhelming for us; we saw just how big the Paralympic Games had become, and it was smaller than it is now.
“From an overall perspective and the size of it all, Beijing was perhaps the best. London has promised to put on the best Games of all.”
Badenhorst is looking forward to watching the 4x100m team run. Radebe is the starting man, with Oscar Pistorius the anchor. In between, Zivan Smith (paralysed left arm) and Arnu Fourie (single-leg amputee) will put in the hard yards. The team are the current world champions and set the world record in Germiston earlier this year.
“What’s exciting this time around, is that we have Oscar and Arnu, who are doing two of the legs in the relay,” said Badenhorst, before catching himself and laughing.
“Er, yes, two legs. Zivan is only in the relay, and then Samkelo, and Tshepo (Bhebe), so we have five guys to choose from in case of any injuries. There are a couple of new guys in the team who are excellent medal chances: Dyan Buis is ranked first in the world in the long jump and second in the 100m. We’ve lost a couple of our medal events because of a reorganisation of the programme.
“Hilton (Langenhoven, three gold medals in Beijing) will not be able to do long jump anymore, but there’s another sprint competition for him. Nicholas Newman’s javelin event has been scratched. Ilse Hayes has lost one medal event, but another one has been included.
“It’s a balance of old and new faces. The usual suspects are in there.”
Radebe epitomises the confidence of the new faces in the team, describing the 4x100m squad as “the best team in the world – world champions and holders of the world record (42.50secs). We can reach 42 seconds flat, or at least 42.1, I think. I’m the starter.
“I carry the big load of not false starting.
“For us, what is more important is to get there super-fit and fast, and then work on our change-overs. We have to tag each other.
“It’s a game of tag once the gun goes – ‘you’re it’. He has to stretch out his arm and I have to touch it. As long as I make contact with his body, then it’s all good. There are judges watching us closely.”
Most of South Africa will be watching the Paralympic team closely. It’s a squad led by and containing two men created by electricity.