When the Paralympic Games kicked off in London four years ago, it was to be a continuation of the Olympic party the city had experienced a month before.
The Brits made a real effort to make the thousands of Paralympic athletes feel welcome, and told stories of how inspired they had been by the tales of grit and determination.
From Thursday, the Paralympic Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro – but it remains an open question whether the spectacle will be embraced in the same way by Brazil.
The run-up to the Games has been dominated by news reports that Rio doesn’t have enough money left over to host the Paralympics; that certain stadiums have been demolished; and that the number of volunteers and security officials has been reduced.
For a sporting event that is supposed to inspire more than any other, it’s hardly a good start.
One can only hope that concerns about the success of the Games will turn out to be misplaced, because on no other stage is determination, the power of dreaming and the overcoming of obstacles as evident as in the Paralympics.
The South African team of 45 is without three of its 2012 superstars. Natalie du Toit has hung up her swimming goggles and Oscar Pistorius has been caught up in a struggle of an entirely different nature.
Charl Bouwer, who won three medals in 2012, also isn’t swimming any more.
For this reason, the prediction made by the CEO of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, Tubby Reddy, in July that this year’s team will take more medals than the class of 2012 sounds like the words of somebody who doesn’t have his finger on the pulse.
It would be wonderful if Team SA could improve on the 29 medals they brought home from London, but Du Toit, Pistorius and Bouwer won 10 of those medals between them.
And like the chef de mission Leon Fleiser said: “Athletes of that calibre aren’t easily replaced.”
His hope is 20 medals – but he does believe that the team can win more gold medals than the eight won by the 2012 group.
And he’s not wrong.
Especially when it comes to the athletics track, South Africa will be a strong competitor, with Dyan Buis (long jump and sprints), Hilton Langenhoven (200m, 400m and long jump), Arnu Fourie (100m), Anruné Liebenberg (200m, 400m), Reinhardt Hamman (javelin) and Jonathan Ntutu (200m), who are all good enough to climb the top step of the podium.
Swimmers Kevin Paul and Hendri Herbst have also shown their steel, and Ernst van Dyk’s heroic deeds in the wheelchair marathon have made him a household name.
Van Dyk will be competing in his seventh Paralympic Games and will hope to add to the seven medals he’s already won.
Also keep an eye out for 14-year-old Ntando Mahlangu, who first put on a pair of prosthetic legs just four years ago, but has already run a world record in the 400m.
Mahlangu was born with underdeveloped legs and was in a wheelchair until the age of 10. He is second in the world rankings in the 200m in his category.