London: South Africa raked in three medals yesterday with Natalie du Toit stretching her margin as South Africa’s most successful Paralympian with her 15th medal last night, her 12th gold medal in three Games, and dedicating it to a recently departed friend.
“This is for Cathy Doyle who was involved in Central Gauteng swimming for so long,” said Du Toit, who won the 400-metres freestyle in convincing style last night. “Cathy was a special person who had done so much for me and for swimming. She was supposed to be officiating here tonight, and I was thinking of her all the way through the swim.”
It was a dominant performance by Du Toit on a day when South Africa picked up the pace in winning medals. Michael Louwrens, at 52 the oldest man in the South African team, got things off to a good start by winning bronze in the shot put for those who suffer from lower limb paralysis. Not long after Du Toit had swum, Shireen Sapiro won bronze in the 100m backstroke. Earlier in the heats she had set a new Africa record.
Louwrens said his latest bronze medal meant more to him than his previous gold medals as the standards were so much higher at this Paralympic Games.
“I was full of doubt before I started this morning and thought I would just give it my best,” said Louwrens.
“To be honest, I’m a little disappointed as I was hoping to reach 14 metres, but I’m more excited about this bronze medal than any of my previous gold medals. The standards are huge, they’ve jumped in leaps and bounds... .”
Louwrens managed a season’s best of 13.64 metres, behind Russia’s Alexey Ashapatov’s heave of 16.20m.
Glowing after his success, Louwrens said he was aware the South African team had not done as well as expected, but Paralympic sport was advancing at such a rapid pace, it was hard to keep up.
The man from Port Elizabeth was competing in his fifth Paralympics after winning his first gold medal for shot put in Atlanta in 1996. He won two more gold medals in his F57 classification, in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004. In Beijing he finished fifth, but pulled a tendon in his left arm, his throwing arm.
Louwrens played rugby when he was growing up and underwent a back operation to repair an old injury when the surgeon accidentally severed a nerve, causing partial paralysis. Having to readjust his sporting activities, he took up shot put in 1983.
Although Louwrens was mobile, he threw from a seated frame for balance with only 10 percent strength in one leg and 40 percent in the other.
Louwrens said his wife Bernadette and son Michael were following his achievements from home. He paid tribute to his coach Kobus van Zyl as well as the biokineticists and sports scientists at the Eastern Cape Academy.