CAPE TOWN – It was a difficult first day for Team South Africa at the Tokyo Paralympics on Wednesday, but as with any multi-sport global event, just qualifying for the competition is a triumph in itself.
Two South Africans were in action on the opening day – Theo Cogill in table tennis and Alani Ferreira in swimming.
The 23-year-old Ferreira, who has a vision impairment, took part in the 100m butterfly race in the S13 class, and ended sixth in her heat in a time of 1 minute 20.25 seconds (1:20.25), which ruled her out of the final, although it was 3.98 seconds faster than her time at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
But with Ferreira’s best event being the 400m freestyle on Friday, she was happy to get the feel of the same pool at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in which Tatjana Schoenmaker won gold and silver medals in the breaststroke at the Olympics.
“I must say it was quite exciting. The first race, you’ve always got a bit of jelly legs, but I really enjoyed it. It was meant to be that ‘get into the Games’ race. My main one is still coming up, so I’m really excited and I’m happy with my start,” Ferreira said from Tokyo.
“(The Paralympics experience) has been really different, not being able to say hello to your friends in the conventional way. But I think Japan and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have handled it well, and even with Covid (protocols), we are enjoying it.”
Cogill, now 34, was a top-level South African table tennis player before he was injured in a stabbing incident in Bellville 10 years ago.
He had to spend a year in a wheelchair, and hasn’t quite felt the same again. He told the Team SA website this week about how he now “can’t move so fast and the body doesn’t do what I want it to do. I still struggle with aches and pains and niggles, but I have to stay positive”.
Cogill competes in the S10 class in table tennis, and faced a tough opponent on Wednesday in Austria’s Krisztian Gardos, a bronze medallist from Rio 2016.
Cogill, who is from Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats, lost 11-5 11-9 11-7, but will be back in action on Thursday against Carlos Carbinatti of Brazil.
Things will heat up on Friday for Team SA, with medal hopes such as wheelchair tennis star Kgothatso Montjane and athletics sprinter Charl du Toit in action.
Sixth seed Montjane will face Japan’s Saki Takamuro in the first round, and will hope to bag a medal after reaching the Wimbledon final this year.
“I’ve always said in Tokyo I just want to aim for a medal – it doesn’t matter which colour – and after my performance at Wimbledon, I don’t see why it’s not attainable,” said Montjane, who was a flag-bearer alongside Du Toit at the opening ceremony.