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London - Natalie du Toit bowed out of all competitive swimming with a silver medal in the women’s S9 100m freestyle final at the Paralympic Games on Friday evening, saying she had given her all to the sport and left with no regrets.
She was beaten to the touch by Australia’s Ellie Cole who secured the gold medal in 1:02.77 while Du Toit was a 68th of a second behind her in 1:03.45.
“Ellie is a great competitor and to get second place was a little bit disappointing but it’s still a medal and now I’m walking away from the sport,” Du Toit said as she broke down in tears.
“It’s been a tough couple of months and for me to get into a pool and swim, and to qualify but be told you’re not good enough, was really, really tough.
“So just to be here was special and I walk away with absolutely no regrets.”
Although she would not elaborate, she alluded to problems she had with administrators within the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.
“To have the small team that I had behind me was something wonderful and to those that were against me Ä hopefully they will get their day, one day,” she said.
Du Toit was first chosen to represent South Africa at the age of 14, at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur but she missed her race which caused a huge furore at the time.
She lost her left leg, below the knee, in a scooter accident in February 2001, when she was travelling to school following a training session.
Despite a week-long effort by doctors to save her damaged limb, the leg had to be amputated. She returned to training in May 2001, which she admitted was “excruciatingly painful” but went on to set world record times at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
“Before my accident, I missed my race in Kuala Lumpur because I was still in the warm-up pool but from there I went to Manchester and then to the Paralympics in Athens in 2004 – and they were both positive stories for me.
“And then to Beijing and doing the best ever in my career.
“I look back and, no matter what emotions I’ve been through, I know that I gave everything in the pool and I gave everything as a person.
“I’m satisfied so it’s time to move on.”
The highlight of Du Toit’s career, she said, was competing in both the Olympics and Paralympics in 2008.
She qualified for the Beijing Olympics finishing fourth in the 10 km open water race at the Open Water World Championships in Seville, Spain.
Her time was only 5.1 seconds off the winner in a race that made its first Olympic appearance that year.
In the Olympic 10 km open water race, she finished in 16th place, 1:22.2 minutes behind the winner.
“Beijing was a special country because when I’d just had my accident (in 2001), the Chinese actually sponsored me with some money and they believed in me as well which was something that was special,” she said.
“And to go out there and qualify as fourth in the world will always stand out in my mind.”
Du Toit won a total of 13 gold and two silver medals in Paralympic competitions to go with her 12 World Championship golds and seven from the Commonwealth Games.
She also left behind a legacy of five world records which were still standing.
“I have absolutely no idea what I will do next but it’s going to be a different part of life.
“I went out there in swimming and just took a chance so it’s time to move on and if you believe in yourself you can go out there you can do it.
“I’m jobless for the next three months but hopefully in January I’ll start studying or working.” - Sapa