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Natalie calls time on swimming career as she wins silver

By Mark Etheridge
in London

Her last medal may have been a silver but Natalie du Toit brought the curtain down on a golden swimming career at the Paralympic Games here on Friday evening.

On a night when Team South Africa won two other medals through Ilse Hayes (gold, F13 long jump) and Ernst van Dyk (silver, H4 cycle road race, Du Toit ended her final race, the S9 100-metre freestyle final, with silver in 1min 03.45 sec and walked away from the sport with 13 Paralympic gold medals.

She will also walk tall as an integral part of Paralympic and Olympic folklore having represented South Africa at both the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing.

“I gave my everything, both tonight, during these Games and during my career. I have to say that I’m satisfied,” she said tearfully.

Certainly she doesn’t regard herself as a trailblazer. “Everyone is different, we all set goals and you are also never at the top, there is always someone else who is coming up.”

There was also a hint of regret and sadness in her post-race interview. “People told me that I wasn’t good enough for the Olympics but I was very glad to be here in London, it was very special and those that were against me during my career will hopefully get their day.”

Looking back on a career that kicked off in 1998 at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, three years before she lost her left leg in a scooter accident, she had mostly good thoughts.

“I guess 1998 was special, even though I missed my race [she was in the warm-up pool],┬á the 2002 Commonwealth Games and Athens Olympics in 2004 both had positive memories but I guess Beijing had the best ever memories.

“I would have liked to get a medal tonight but I was a bit slower than in my heats this morning and Ellie Cole [winner in 1:02.77] is a great competitor.”

Looking forward and Du Toit now faces the great unknown. “It’s a different part of my life now and everything changes. I suppose I’ll be jobless for three months but I will still swim, although not competitively. I come from a generation that jumps in the pool and plays around and takes the dogs down to the beach etc. My old boxer dog in Cape Town is as old as my career so I’ll want to spend more time with her as well.”

Also in aquatics action on Friday night was Hendri Herbst who had won bronze earlier in the Games. Friday night though wasn’t his night as he ended seventh in the S11 400m freestyle with a time of 4:59.51. And Charl Bouwer’s Games also came to an end after winning a gold and two silvers. His final race was the S13 200m IM and he was one place outside the medals in 2:14.71 as Belarussian Ihar Boki set yet another world record.

Hayes had won silver in the 100m on Thursday night and had intensive physiotherapy on her upper left thigh to try and ensure her place in the staring line-up, unlike Anike Pretorius whose hamstring injury worsened to such an extent that she had to be withdrawn.

But a 5.70m effort with her second jump proved more than enough to take gold by some margin ahead of Algeria’s Lynda Hamri (5.31m).

Clearly in some discomfort Hayes said: “It’s really great to have won here but I was disappointed that I had three no-jumps because some of them were really good.

“When I woke up this morning my quad muscle was really, really sore but I’m just glad I was able to get through it and win gold. I’ll go and have a scan on the muscle tomorrow to find out exactly how bad the damage is but before that I’m going out for supper with my husband Cassie.”

Hayes’ victory came 10 years after she first started competing on the international scene and her winning effort on Friday was two centimetres further than when she won gold in Beijing.

Out at Brands Hatch it was Van Dyk who powered his way to silver in the Men’s Individual H4 road cycle over 64 kilometres.

He clocked 2hr 00min 33sec.for his silver, less than a second behind former Formula One racer Alex Minardi in his custom-made hand-cycle.

ÔÇ£Zanardi is a smart racer and he knew if he took my wheel, he would probably get out in front of me,ÔÇØ said Van Dyk. ÔÇ£When he came past me, he came with a lot of power and I was running low because I’d been in front for quite a bit.

But that’s the risk you take when you go out in front and I’m just happy to come away with a silver.ÔÇØ

Back to track action and Hilton Langenhoven loped into Saturday’s T12 final in style with a 22.24 win in the first of three semi-finals. “I just made sure I got into that final,” said Langenhoven, who eased off in the final stages.

“But I think we’re going to have to go sub-22 to win the gold here. The standards have improved so improved so much after Beijing. Like Jonathan Ntutu [team-mate] says, we have to be like mineworkers here and dig deep for gold medals!”

Ntutu was in action not much longer after his team-mate and ended sixth in the T13 200m final with a time of 22.37 as the incredible Irish talent Jason Smyth won in a world record 21.05, 0.90sec ahead of the silver medal place.

Then it was blind runner Jan Nehro’s turn in the T11 5000m where he ended sixth in 16:09.51.

“It was lovely and warm out there but hey, these kids are too fast for me,” said the 39-year-old from the Swartland town of Riebeek West. “I’ve been running marathons for 19 years. Twenty years ago I would have given them a good go.”

Helped by guide Duane Fortuin, Nehro said it was an honour to have represented his country. “It’s great to have some SA middle-distance participation her at the Olympics.”

The final event of the evening saw defending 2008 Paralympic T44 400m champion Oscar Pistorius ease into the final. He was fastest of the eight qualifiers with 48.31 victory in Heat Two, more than two seconds quicker than next fastest, Blake Leeper of the US (50.63) and even quicker than the man who took his 200m title away earlier in the week.

Brazil’s Alan Oliveira was fifth fastest with a 53.02 ahead of Saturday’s final.


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