As the lift at an exhibition centre beside the South Bank began to sink downwards, Teboho Mokgalagadi, the Paralympic sprinter from the Free State, announced that he was not going to win a gold medal. “I’m going to win a platinum medal,” he laughed.
Given that the mining of platinum is a sensitive subject in South Africa about now, he could, perhaps, have been a little more selective in his choice of words, but he meant no harm. He was merely stating a sometimes forgotten matter of fact about the Paralympics – it’s about victory.
In the end, after all the emotion has finished, after the athletes have tired of hearing how “brave” they are and how “inspirational” they have been, the Paralympics comes down to performances. It comes down to medals and winning them. It comes down to where your nation ends on the big white sheet of paper that is the medal table.
Some big predictions have been made for the South African Paralympic team, who won 30 medals in Beijing and finished sixth there. The deputy sports minister, Gert Oosthuizen announced at the farewell banquet for the team that they would be bringing home 40 medals from London.
There was little wringing of hands and slapping of heads in exasperation from the athletes. They are well aware of the expectation of the South African public.
They are the victims of their own success. Winning begets winning, and South Africa loves a winner.
On Thursday that should start, as it did at the Olympics, in the Aquatic Centre. Natalie du Toit is on the cusp of becoming South Africa’s most successful Paralympian, needing just one medal to equal the haul of Fanie Lombaard and two to surpass him.
As she is competing in seven events, here it is highly unlikely that she will not do so. She is expected to win South Africa’s first gold medal of the Games, despite the fact she has said that she does not believe she is in the best of form. There have been problems with her build-up, she said this week, problems she does not wish to elaborate on.
But those will fade into insignificance once she gets into the pool at the Aquatic Centre today. She will take part in the 100m butterfly heats in the morning and, barring any disaster, the final in the evening.
Kevin Paul was still a pupil at Grey High in Port Elizabeth when he won a gold medal in Beijing in the 100m breaststroke, breaking the world record.
As have many of his teammates, he has expanded his portfolio and will be swimming in four events. Paul, who was born with no pectoral muscles in his left side, will be in the 200 individual medley, and should make the final.
Roxy Burns will be the first South African in action today when she takes part in the 3000-metres pursuit. Jaco Nel will line up for the one-kilometre time trial, but Burns is not expected to go through to the final. “This is not Roxy’s specialist event, but the time trial is Jaco’s specialist event and he stands a very real chance,” said team manager Mike Burns.
“The pursuit is definitely not my favourite. I have not trained much for it, so I dont have much to say about it. But training has been very good – it’s a nice track – warm and fast,” said Roxy Burns.
Dressage riders Anthony Dawson and Marion Milne will beging their qualification rounds in the Grade II team test. Milne is also riding in the Grade 1B Test today. – The Star