Paralympians aim to improve

2012-08-21 17:47

Johannesburg - Team South Africa’s chef de mission for the 2012 London Paralympics Pieter Badenhorst said the team had their work cut-out if they wanted to improve on the previous Paralympic Games.

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The disabled athletes surprised the nation by finishing sixth, four years ago in Beijing, bagging 21 gold, three silver and six bronze medals.

“It is notoriously difficult to win medals at the Paralympics and it gets so congested at the top of the table,” Pieter Badenhorst said before the team’s departure for London on Tuesday.

“There is so little difference between the team which comes third and the team that finishes 13th - so one slip up can affect us.

“There are a lot of dynamics which we cannot predict so we can only do what we can and will be happy with fifth or sixth position.”

Badenhorst explained some of the challenges faced when travelling with the team.

“Just getting on the plane is a challenge as carriers have a limit on the number of wheelchairs permitted on each flight,” Badenhorst said.

“Thank goodness we have a special relationship with the airline and they have provided extra crew for the flight.

“Some of our coaches also underwent special inflight safety training."

He added that the challenges were not only limited to travelling but also included special alterations to their kit.

"Kitting out the team is a bit of a challenge as some athletes only require one shoe or they require different sized shoes for each foot," he said.

"Others need different sized top and bottoms so we face some unique challenges but, in essence, it’s the same as preparing any other team."

In the past, South Africa’s Paralympic medals had come mainly from swimming and athletics, but this year, after a tough selection process, Badenhorst hoped medals would be achieved in different sporting codes.

"Traditionally, the bulk of our medals came from swimming and athletics but we also hope that cycling and equestrian will come through," Badenhorst said.

"The selection criteria was extremely strict so everyone selected has medal potential.

"The athletes are ready to perform and they just want to get on the plane and go."

Grace Hughes, the chief physiotherapist travelling with the team said the athletes were in peak condition.

"Bear in mind, they have gone through a rigorous selection procedure and they are elite athletes," said Hughes.

"We have spent the last few days strengthening their necks to carry all the medals.

"They’re great, strong, fit and look fabulous."

Beijing gold medallist (in long-jump, 100m and 200m) Hilton Langenhoven, representing the athletes, thanked Sascoc and the sponsors for their support.

"Since 2008, a lot has been invested to enable us to attend more competitions and to attend the world champs," he said.

"As a team, we are looking forward to settling when we get there and staying focussed.

"The nation associates us with success and this team will deliver."