London – Single leg amputee Achmat Hassiem dedicated South Africa’s third medal of the London Paralympic Games to his family and friends back home.
“I haven’t spoken to my coach yet but he is probably going crazy,” said the elated bronze medallist, who finished third the men’s 100 metres butterfly S10 final in 57.76 seconds on Saturday.
“Our training back home usually ends around this time so they got out of the pool early to watch the race on TV.
“I can just imagine my family and my teammates standing there going mad – so this is for them.”
The gold medal went to Brazilian Andre Brasil, who won the race in 56.35, while Dmitry Grigorev of Russia took silver in 56.89.
“All I had to do was put my head down and just gun the last five metres,” Hassiem said.
“I peeped out the corner of my eye at the Spanish guy (David Levecq) who took me in this morning’s heat and, when I couldn’t see him, I knew this was it.
“The greatest feeling ever was to see my block light up – there is no better feeling than seeing those lights.”
Hassiem had spoken to his coach in Cape Town, Brian Button, after his heat and spent the rest of the day focussing on what needed fixing.
“I was just thinking about everything I did wrong in the heats this morning and was told by my coach back home to focus on my mistakes and to put my head down in the last five metres.
“He said it was just the simple things I needed to do correctly to medal tonight.”
Slow out of the blocks, as with most single-leg amputees, Hassiem was not in the picture at the turn, but he came back strongly at the end.
“I was more focussed on the actual race but I wanted to turn faster than that, and I needed to breathe.
“So I turned a bit slow and it’s also harder for me when it comes to the kicking because I can’t do as many kicks under the water and undulate like the other swimmers.
“My coach told me to leave the kicks and only use them in the last 50 metres.
“I remember doing the first two arm strokes really, really hard and then getting into the rhythm.
“That’s what butterfly is all about – and thank goodness I live in Cape Town, so I was born with rhythm, and I put that rhythm to good use.”
Paying tribute to his mother, Thoraiya, Hassiem said she got up every morning at 4am to bring him his breakfast and his father and brother had been equally supportive.
“I have so many followers on Twitter and just after my heat this morning I got so many messages saying ‘do it for us Achmat’.
“My mom called me and said ‘I believe in you and I love you so just go out there and win a medal’.
“As a family, we don’t have much, but what we do have (now) is a Paralympic bronze medal.”