Hilton makes 'big leap for albinos'
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Rio de Janeiro: Hilton Langenhoven did just one thing wrong when he won the gold in the long jump at the Olympic Stadium at the weekend.
The visually impaired 33-year-old held up the South African flag the wrong way round. Not upside down, just facing the wrong way.
He looked down at it.
It was close enough for him to see and he turned it around and lit up the world with a smile that could be felt all the way back to the land of his birth.
For Langenhoven, born with albinism, the gold medal was more than just reward for the “agony” he said he had put his family and team through. It was for all albinos.
“In 2008 when I came home from the Beijing Paralympic Games, people didn’t know my name,” said Langenhoven.
“They know me as an albino individual, a vision-impaired individual who has done the nation proud.
And through that, perception is changing regarding disabilities. It’s absolutely fantastic and if we can contribute to that going forward.
“Albinism is a day-to-day challenge wherever you’re from, wherever you go and it all depends where.
“I’m glad to contribute towards that perception, that stigma about albinism in our country and in Africa as well. Albinos are known to be excluded from society and hidden in a box.
“If I can come out and say we don’t have to hide, we don’t have to hide our disability, we can be powerful. We can motivate the nation.”
What a difference a few days make.
On Thursday night he cried himself to sleep after he had been disqualified for stepping out of his lane in his 400m semifinal, an event he had targeted.
It was an error that could be forgiven for someone for whom running is sprinting into a thick fog at night with your headlights on full beam and being only able to see three metres ahead.
Throw in two corners, and the degree of difficulty becomes exponential.
But that did not ease the pain. Saturday’s gold would have done just that.
“The Paralympics are so limited so if you’re selected, you have to make it count.
“I’m glad this one was counted as a gold medal for our team,” said Langenhoven, who, because the long jump had not been included for the visually impaired in London to fit in another sport in a packed schedule, defended the title he won in Beijing in 2008.
He won three gold medals in Beijing, the 200m and pentathlon the others.
“You know your goal in training with an event that you’re accustomed to, your favourite event.
“There’s reason to stand up, there’s reason to train as well. I think I’m one of the longest running defending champions.
“Since 2008 there’s hasn’t been a long jump. In 2012, there was no long jump, now 2016.
“Defending my championship, I’m quite proud of that.”
Langenhoven will compete in the 200m heats on Friday at 11.45pm SA time.