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Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Beijing - Team  South Africa came here to embarrass the country last month with their scandalous showing at the Olympics, but their Paralympic counterparts managed to restore the country's pride with their awe-inspiring display at the Games.

The Paralympians made the country proud with a laudable sixth spot finish on the medal table after the Games.

Their achievement was described  by many as heroic considering they had fewer athletes compared to the countries that made it within the top 10 bracket.

Team South Africa, which had 67 athletes, finished with 30 medals - 21 gold, three silver and six bronze.

The South Africans managed to finish ahead of the well-represented Canada who had 50 medals, Russia (63), Brazil (47) and Spain (58).

Canada, which had 160 athletes, is ahead of the other three countries because they won more gold medals.

Russia had 145 athletes, Brazil 189 and Spain was represented by 152.

As expected hosts China, who had 342 athletes, finished on the summit of the table with 211 medals.

The Chinese were also the overall winners at the 2004 Athens Games with 141 medals.

Great Britain, represented by 214 athletes in Beijing, came second with 102 medals and was followed by 217-member United States with 99.

Ukraine, who had 123 athletes, was fourth with 74 medals and Australia, boasting 172 representatives, finished fifth with 79.

It was a great achievement for South Africa in Beijing considering that they had 122 athletes in Athens where they finished 13th among  4 000 athletes from 136 countries. They scooped 15 gold, 13 silver and seven bronze medals in Athens.

There were 4 200 athletes from 147 countries who competed at the Beijing Games that ended on Wednesday.

At the Sydney Games in 2000, Team South Africa claimed 38 medals, 13 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze but also finished 13th on the medal table.

Their success in Sydney surpassed that of Atlanta where they finished with 28 medals, 10  gold, eight silver and 10 bronze.

As expected, athletes such as swimming sensation Natalie du Toit and "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius shone in Beijing and their successes ensured that South Africa was counted among the best at the Games.

Du Toit, who made history when she became the first athlete to carry her country's flag at the opening ceremonies of both the Olympics and Paralympics in the history of the Games, won five gold medals in her swimming contests here.

Her name also went into the annals of the Games when she competed in the 10km open marathon swim against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics last month. She came 16th out of  25 competitors.

Du Toit capped her attention-grabbing display here when she, together with visually impaired Panamanian runner Said Gomez, was presented with the revered Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award at the colourful closing ceremony at the Bird's Nest on Wednesday night.

The awards are presented to athletes with disabilities but who manage to overcome their adversities through the pursuit of excellence in sport and through the Paralympic Games.

South Africa's Zanele Situ won the same award after she defended her javelin title in Athens.

Situ, who did not win any medal in Beijing, became the first South African black female athlete to win gold at the Paralympics when she prevailed in the same event in Sydney.

Athletes such as Phillipa Johnson, Ernst van Dyk and Fanie Lombard also made South Africa proud in Beijing.


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