LONDON: “Listen to this crowd,” said Oscar Pistorius. They were not chanting his name, but that of Jonnie Peacock, the fastest man on one leg, who had just won the 100m, the event that Pistorius described as the top event of the Games.
Pistorius had lost for the second time at the Paralympics, finishing fourth behind the young British sensation Peacock, but there was no sense of failure, no pointing of fingers and no frown. He smiled as he embraced the night and the moment. He had cause to celebrate last night as Arnu Fourie, his teammate, beat him on the line to take bronze. Fourie crossed the line in 11.08sec, a South African record, while Peacock won in 10.90sec and Richard Browne of the United States was second in 11.03sec. It is interesting to note that all of the top three were single-leg amputees. The 100m has traditionally favoured them.
“I’m incredibly humbled and proud,” said Fourie. “I’ve finished fourth in Beijing and in Christchurch last year, and I wanted this so much. I saw the line and I just kept going. All the training and all the effort has paid off. Running in front of a crowd like this, with my mother and father, and all my family here, it was special. I’ve never heard cheering like that in a stadium. There was a lot of pressure on Jonnie Peacock, and he handled it so well. I think he’s phenomenal.”
It was Fourie’s second medal of the Games to go with his gold in Wednesday night’s 4x100m relay. He will be in the stands to watch Pistorius when he takes part in the 400m heats tonight.
It is seldom that a sporting great gets to go out on a high. The end usually comes sooner than expected and wanted and retirement is forced upon the athlete, the exit less dignified than it should and could have been. That will not happen with Natalie du Toit.
After winning her 13th gold Paralympic medal she said she could not be tempted back for the Games in Rio, whether those be Paralympics or Olympics. She has hinted at having a difficult time in her life over the last eight months or so, but is bound by her participation agreement with Sascoc not to speak about what it is. It is understood that she is not pleased with her treatment by the authorities and the belief that she has not been supported as well as other athletes, but she has held her contractually-bound tongue. It is likely that she will loosen it once those binds come to an end, but that will not diminish her achievement in her three Paralympics.
From 2004 in Athens when she was an almost reluctant Paralympian, competing just three years after she had lost her leg in that 2001 accident, to the 2012 Games, where she was roared on by a capacity crowd at the Aquatic Centre, Du Toit has been a prominent force and face of the sport. She grew to love the Paralympics in Athens, where she was the most high-profile athlete. She became South Africa’s most successful Paralympian yet when she won the 200m individual medley last night. She is, as she admits, rubbish in the backstroke, and took the time on her back to have a look at the big screen as she swam to gold.
“I touched for the backstroke and saw myself on the screen and I sort of watched myself go from a close up to a far view of eight lanes,” said Du Toit. “It was quite interesting as a swimmer watching yourself on a screen, watching your race as you’re actually doing it.”
She will be looking forward to doing a lot more watching now that she does not have to train for five hours a day. She was not at her sharpest coming into the Paralympics, having only given herself five weeks to sharpen up her sprinting prowess. It was not enough for the 50m freestyle sprint on Wednesday, but it should be enough for today in the 100m freestyle, her last race.
Hilton Langenhoven won silver for South Africa in the 400m for the visually impaired last night. He said he had struggled in the back straight with the wind, but was happy with his personal best over the distance.
Ilse Hayes also won silver for South Africa in the 100m for the visually impaired. As of last night, South Africa have 21 medals and are 20th on the medal table.