Aquatic Centre, London
Natalie du Toit may not have added to her considerable pile of gold medals at the pool last night, but in her stead one of South Africa’s new Paralympic generation stepped up and won South Africa’s second medal of these Games.
Hendri Herbst, the boy from Worcester who has been shaped as a competitive swimmer at Stellenbosch University, did not know he had won bronze in the 100m freestyle until he was told by an official. Then again, if he had celebrated before he was told, there would have been an inquiry as Herbst has “just about zero sight”.
Yet his opaque eyes were lit up with the glint of success after he finished third behind Bradley Snyder of the United States and Bozun Yang of China, dipping under 60 seconds for the first time in his five-year swimming career with a 59.60 second swim.
“I thought I might do well, maybe top five,” said Herbst, “but this is so great. I can’t tell you how excited I feel about this. It’s the best thing ever.”
Du Toit was sanguine about her fourth place in the 100m backstroke. She said a few days ago that this and today’s breaststroke were not her best events, but that she would give them a go.
“I told myself before the competition that I would go out there and have fun, and see what I could do,” said Du Toit. “Tomorrow will be tough as well. That’s going to be my hardest event. I’m not great at breaststroke, but I have more events to come and we’ll see what I can do.”
Emily Gray, the single-leg amputee, finished seventh in the 100m backstroke, behind Du Toit.
Meanwhile, Pietie goes everywhere with Anrune Liebenberg when she competes. Pietie is there at the start of the race, balancing on a little support pedestal just before she begins her run. Pietie is with her as she rounds the curve into the finish straight. Pietie doesn’t talk much. Pietie also washes off.
“This is Pietie,” said Liebenberg, showing us a picture of a little face she had drawn on the end of her left arm, where the memories of fingers remain.
“I always draw a face on my stump when I run. I put it on with a pencil. It’s usually the same face, but who knows, I may change it.”
Perhaps she might call it Usain after she qualified second fastest for tomorrow night’s final of the 200m, setting a personal best and a new African record with a run of 25.79sec. Cuban Yunidis Castillo was fastest in 24.81.
“I had a good feeling in me. There were some nerves, but you have to have some nerves at a place as spectacular as this,” said Liebenberg.
“My start is not my best, but my finish is always good. I don’t mind what lane I run in. It’s not about the lane but about the person in the lane. I ran a South African and African record as well as a new PB. I felt incredible. My old PB was 26.46sec.”
It was, otherwise, a fair to middling day for Team South Africa. Sandra Khumalo, whose lower body was paralysed after a motor accident in 2005, finished fifth in her heat of the single sculls; Chenelle van Zyl, the cerebral palsied athlete, could only manage sixth place in the discus and was so upset by her performance she disappeared into the depths of the stadium, avoiding her coach and media.
Tears flowed yesterday.
Shireen Sapiro was fifth in the 50m freestyle and missed out on the final, as did Kevin Paul in the same event for men, while Renette Bloem’s sixth in the heats of the 100m freestyle was not enough to progress.
After Australia, the world and Paralympic champions, had run rampant over them on Thursday night with a 93-39 win, the SA wheelchair basketball team put in an improved performance but still went down 74-50.
Coach Patrick Fick had said his charges would always be up against it in London, but there is no lack of fight among them.
They may yet pull off a surprise.