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LONDON: Natalie du Toit is finally coming to grips with the fact that her final Paralympics is just three events away. She won the 400m freestyle in the pool last night quite convincingly, 9.83 seconds ahead of the second-placed Stephanie Millward of Team Great Britain.
It was South Africa’s third gold medal of the Paralympics, her 12th gold in three Games and her 15th in total. With three possible gold medals to come, she is beginning to count the days and remember the good times. It was a good time for South Africa in the pool last night as Shireen Sapiro took bronze in the 100m backstroke, the event she had won in Beijing when she had finished in a dead heat with Sophie Pascoe of New Zealand. Pascoe had finished second behind Canadian winner Ashley Mortimer. Emily Gray was seventh in the 400m freestyle behind Du Toit.
“I’m so glad this race is over,” said Sapiro. “It’s been sitting on my back for the last two years. Being the defending champion has been strange. Now I can relax and go out and race my next two races hard.”
Michael Louwrens may be the oldest South African ever to win a Paralympic medal, but at the age of 52, the man from Port Elizabeth, who took bronze in the shot put (F57), said he would be back for the 15th Paralympics in Rio.
“I was probably about a centimetre or so away from that silver medal, going on the points system, but I beat the same Polish guy by about the same margin in Sydney, so I guess we’re all square,” said Louwrens. The bronze was his fourth Paralympic medal.
“Now I’ve got three golds and this bronze. All I need is a silver, so maybe Rio in four years time. If I can keep my strength up, I see no reason why I can’t do it again.”
Louwrens was fouled for lifting his body from the seat before his first throw. He worried that he might repeat his horror show from London two months ago, when he was nailed for the same thing six times in a row during competition. But he just carried on.
“I was disqualified six times here in London when I came here about two months ago. I couldn’t understand it then and I can’t now. I have thrown like this for 20 years,” he said. “So I didn’t change anything and just carried on. But obviously it sits in the back of your mind. It was a huge field (18 of us), so it was quite nerve-wracking once I got that bronze throw but had to wait and see how the other guys did. To tell the truth, I would have liked to throw 14m, I think I had it in me, but I’m just relieved to finish in the medals.”
Charl Bouwer, the visually-impaired swimmer, is beginning to hate the sight of the 18-year-old Ihar Boki from Belarus, so to speak. He beat him in the morning heats of the 400m freestyle yesterday. It was the third time that Bouwer has been beaten by him at these Games.
“I thought to myself, sure he’s an amazing swimmer, he’s doing really well for himself and I think for a guy of his age to do, I think four world records so far, he is doing really well. It’s not nice for me as the second-fastest loser, but yeah, he is doing really well for his first Paralympics. It’s not like the Olympics where there is just one guy who is really fast and holds all of the records. There is always a newcomer (at the Paralympics), a guy coming in.”