SA banks on Oscar, Natalie
Johannesburg - Sprinter Oscar Pistorius and swimmer Natalie du Toit were earmarked to once again spearhead the country's team when the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) celebrated the 100-day countdown to the London Paralympic Games in Cape Town on Monday night.
Pistorius won three gold medals at the Beijing Paralympics four years ago, and fellow amputee Du Toit secured five medals shortly after competing at the able-bodied Games.
"The general sporting public often seem to overlook the Paralympics, coming as they do around two weeks after the conclusion of the sporting extravaganza that is the Olympic Games every four years," said Sascoc vice-president Hajera Kajee.
"But here in South Africa two of our leading sports personalities happen to be Paralympians. I'm talking about Oscar and Natalie.
"Between these two fine people, they have taken huge strides and gone to great lengths to give not only Paralympic sport, but South African sport in general, much-needed global exposure.
"Both have shone ever so brightly on the international scene and I am sure that they will continue to do so in London this year."
Pistorius and Du Toit have yet to qualify for the able-bodied Olympics in the English capital, having to spread their wings abroad in an effort to reach the required standards, but both are certainties, provided they are fit and healthy, for the disability event.
Deputy Sports Minister Gert Oosthuizen said he wished the country's Olympic team would show the same measure of optimism as the Paralympians.
"Our Paralympic team is confident that they will continue to show improvement and we hear that over and over again," Oosthuizen said.
"It would great if our Olympic team could be as optimistic."
Ilse Hayes, who won gold in the long jump (F13) and silver in the 100-metre dash (T13) in Beijing, said they were heading overseas to train in warmer conditions in the build-up to the London Paralympics in August.
"We are off to train overseas in June and July and also fitting in two competitions in Germany and the Netherlands," Hayes said.
"We are very excited about that."
Sprinter Fanie van der Merwe, a double gold medallist in the T37 category in Beijing, insisted they were not resting on their laurels as they prepared for the quadrennial showpiece.
"One thing I have realised for these Games is that we should put Beijing behind us and get a new focus - not comparing the two - because it will be a completely new experience. Time is short now," Van der Merwe said.
"We will be here for the next month, then in Europe for a month, then back here for the last pre-competition preparations."
The SA Paralympic team in London will hope to improve on their 30-strong medal count from Beijing, where they earned 21 gold medals to finish sixth in the table.