South Africa’s Paralympic squad, led by five-time Paralympian Zanele Situ, joined the procession of 4350 athletes from 160 teams at the opening ceremony (7 September) signalling the start of the 2016 Summer Games which runs until the 18th.

The event is the fifteenth of its kind and will showcase 23 sports disciplines at four venues over 11 days of competition.

For South Africa, the athletics code has a history of producing the most medals since the country’s re-admission in 1992. This year, as before, track and field will be the most representative featuring 19 athletes.

“We will be satisfied with 20 medals or more. We will most likely not exceed the 29 won at the 2012 Games in London, but here we need to keep perspective. Since the previous Games Natalie du Toit retired, and she could produce seven medals on her own, as well as swimmer Charl Bouwer, who won three medals in London. To replace athletes of that caliber during a four year cycle is highly unlikely,” chef de mission, Leon Fleiser told press.

He added that this time the team is hoping for quality over quantity, and that it would be nice to exceed the eight gold medals won in London. A possible feat considering that many of the squad members rank among the world’s best in their respective categories.

About the inclusion of teenage sprinter Ntando Mahlangu, who is the youngest member of the squad, Fleiser adds, “Even though Ntando is only fourteen, he is ranked second in the world in the 200 in his division and, if the moment is not too big, he has an excellent chance of standing on the podium.”

Now that the Games are officially open, the track action starts with a bang featuring Hilton Langenhoven in the T12 400m heats (4.56pm) and semi-finals (11.38pm), Mpumelelo Mlongo and Arnu Fourie in the T44 100m heats (10.42pm), and Liezel Gouws in the T37 100m heats (12.51am) on day one (8 September) of the competition.

Written by: Liezel van Rensburg / Photo: via Team South Africa