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Future Paralympian stars have their sights on Rio 2016

The Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled, presented by SASAPD, officially opened the search for the Paralympic stars that will fly South Africa’s flag in Rio in 2016 with a glittering opening ceremony at the University of Pretoria on Sunday.

Over the next three days the stage is set for athletes in seven codes to start their journey to the next Paralympics, to use the championships as the first step to glory in four years’ time.

With history showing that all of South Africa’s 29 medals in London 2012 came from athletes who started their careers at the Nedbank Championships, the stage is set now for new faces to make their mark and announce their arrival as serious contenders to make up the next Paralympic team.

As always, there is much excitement at the unknown factor that awaits at these championships, with a number of medal hopefuls likely to emerge from the new entries. This is one of the key areas that makes a sponsor like Nedbank excited for this year’s championships.

ÔÇ£I think the Nedbank Champs are always a fantastic platform for aspiring athletes and particularly the first year after the Olympics because this is where the four-year journey starts, not only for champions, but for those who went to London and didn’t quite achieve what they wanted to, and of course for new stars,ÔÇØ Andy Scott, Nedbank’s head of sponsorships explains.

ÔÇ£From a Nedbank point of view, 22 years down the track we’re very excited to be part of it and it’s just a fabulous advertisement for sport in South Africa.

The Nedbank Championships was officially opened by the Deputy Minister of Sport, Gert Oosthuizen, who pledged government’s support and spoke to the importance of the Championships in the greater sporting landscape.

ÔÇ£From the government’s perspective, it is important to have these national championships.┬á Of particular importance to us is the fact that it is multi-coded, and it speaks to our talent identification programme,ÔÇØ he explained. “But it goes one step further. It speaks to inclusivity, to normalising society and creating opportunities for disabled people to take up their rightful place in society. We will definitely identify talent here, nurture it and who knows what will come in 2016.

ÔÇ£This is the route to go, to have nine provinces here with a large contingent of athletes competing in the seven codes this week. It all augers well for Sport for people with disabilities in South Africa.ÔÇØ

With the nerves apparent among the athletes during the ceremony, it was clear that many of them were looking forward to settling in and doing their final preparations before competing in their various sporting codes.

But above it all was excitement that was rising at the opportunity that presents itself, one that is sure to find new heroes for South African sport.

ÔÇ£If we look at the athletes that have done South Africa so proud in the past, we are sure that the Nedbank Championships will see athletes of a similar stature. That talent search starts here and I’ve no doubt that South Africa’s flag and anthem will fly and play prominently at Paralympics for years to come,ÔÇØ Scott added.

The Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled, presented by SASAPD, runs until 27 March at various centres at the University of Pretoria.