at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London - The Western Cape’s star shone bright on Thursday night as four of its champion Paralympians pushed SA’s medal count to 21: the city’s Natalie du Toit, Stellenbosch’s Arnu Fourie and Ilse Hayes, and Hilton Langenhoven from Worcester.
It was a night of drama and reflection for South Africa at the Paralympics on Thursday night, as Du Toit, one of the Rainbow Nation’s greats readied herself to bid farewell to the Games.
And another failed to win a medal in a final for the first time ever: Oscar Pistorius was fourth in the 100-metres dash, beaten by his teammate Fourie for the third place he thought he had on the line.
It was the first time that Pistorius had not won a medal in a Paralympic final since he made his debut in Athens in 2004. The world did not end, and the sky did not fall. The Paralympics just grew up.
Pistorius hugged Fourie for a long moment, celebrating with his friend.
He also hugged Jonnie Peacock, the young British star who took gold in a blistering 10.90 seconds.
“It was an amazing race,” said Pistorius.
“Listen to this crowd, they are still cheering Jonnie’s name. This is the biggest race of the Games, and Jonnie ran amazing[ly]. For me, I ran a season best and my roommate and one of my best friends beat me to get bronze, and I couldn’t be happier.”
There were more mixed feeling from Du Toit on Thursday, though. Sad, relieved and scared.
Those were her emotions as she prepared herself to race in her final Paralympic race on Friday.
A wonderful career will come to an end, but she will leave with her head held high as South Africa’s most successful Paralympian yet.
Du Toit won her 13th gold medal on Thursday night in the 200-metre individual medley, and with just the 100m freestyle to come on Friday, she said she could not be convinced to return one last time.
“No. I think after this I will try to get my head right,” said Du Toit.
“I will have been out of the sport too long to try to come back, and too old to improve in a short space of time.
“The whole system in South Africa is a bit different at the moment as well.
“I’m looking forward to taking a break. I’m sad, relieved - and, I think, scared - because I have no idea what I’m going to do, but also scared because those girls are swimming well and (Friday) won’t be easy.
“To walk away with a medal will be very special with its being the last competition. Hopefully afterwards I won’t cry. I’m going give it everything.” There will be tears. Of that there can be no doubt.
Du Toit began to shed them two years ago at the Commonwealth Games when she realised she would not take part in that competition again. Now she is facing the same reality with the Paralympic Games.
There have been rumours that her advisers have spoken to her about coming back for Rio, but for now she is content with her decision. The crowd, perhaps realising the occasion, roared on her victory on Thursday night.
South Africa took their medal count to 21 on Thursday night with silvers from Langenhoven and Hayes. Langenhoven won silver in a race that he might have expected to win. He said that he was content with the second place in the 400m for the visually impaired.
Langenhoven was South Africa’s most impressive athlete in Beijing, where he won three gold medals in the long jump, 200m and pentathlon.
Hayes’s left quad was heavily strapped for an injury she picked up in Europe and hoped would get better.
She hopped around in some discomfort after her race, but said she would be okay for the long jump on Friday.