Rio de Janeiro – You wait for one South African gold, and two come along in the space of 30 minutes. On a humid morning in Rio, South Africa once again wore gold after Ernst van Dyk and Reinhardt Hamman won with bicycle and javelin Thursday.
It was Van Dyk’s eighth medal in seven Paralympic, his second gold to go with the one he won in cycling in Beijing. For Hamman, the world champion in javelin for the cerebral palsied, it was his first and a chance to honour his father, who died in March.
“This medal came from hard work, determination and sitting with a bad knee that almost had me contemplating whether to stop halfway through,” said an emotional Hamman. “But the thought of my dad screaming in my head, that is something that kept me going. He passed away on March 8. This gold medal is for him. Everything is for him. It’s in his honour.”
Hamman was told that he had won gold just a few minutes after Van Dyk, a Paralympic legend and icon to disabled sport in South Africa. “Serious? I’ve shard a room with two medallists already. Now to share with a fourth, the floor will cave in.”
The road race was Van Dyk’s final cycling race as a Paralympian. He has been speaking of retiring from cycling for some time now, and yesterday did it in some style with a win born of brains and brawn. He dived into the final corner before the pack, which included Alessandro Zanardi, the former formula one driver who lost his legs in an accident 15 years ago yesterday, and then out-sprinted him to the line. Zanardi had beaten Van Dyk to gold in London, giving the Paarl man some sweet revenge.
“The emotions? You want to know about emotions?” asked Van Dyk. “So many. So, so many. I have been through some dark places to win this medal. When I woke up today, I wanted to finish with just a medal, any medal would have done. Gold is perfect, coming eight years after my last gold in Beijing. It has been a long path since then. The Paralympics have been such an important part of my life.”
Van Dyk first took part in the 1992 Paralympics as a swimmer, and won his first medal in Sydney in the 400m for wheelchair racing. He now has three silver, two gold and three bronze. Sunday should be his last race as a Paralympian, the wheelchair marathon, a sport he has become an international superstar in and the one that gives him his livelihood.
“Let’s see, I might be back for the wheelchair in Tokyo, who knows,” he smiled.