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Paralympian Du Preez teary as his childhood dream comes true

Pieter bagged gold in the hand cycling time trial

Gold medalist Nicolas Pieter du Preez of Team South Africa celebrates on the podium at the medal ceremony for the Cycling Road Men's H1 Time Trial on day 7 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Fuji International Speedway.
Gold medalist Nicolas Pieter du Preez of Team South Africa celebrates on the podium at the medal ceremony for the Cycling Road Men's H1 Time Trial on day 7 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Fuji International Speedway.
Image: Toru Hanai

SA’s third gold medal winner at the Tokyo Paralympics, Pieter du Preez, who won the hand cycling time trial for C6 quadriplegics yesterday, says there is no defining line between the time before and after the accident that made him a Paralympian.

The 2003 accident that saw Du Preez the cyclist, swimmer and runner become Du Preez the hand cyclist, swimmer and still a runner in his soul, was part of the same journey. It has been a journey that has seen him become the first quadriplegic to finish an Ironman triathlon, a path that made him a world champion, and, on Monday, the voyage that took him to the Paralympic gold medal.

First the facts. The 41-year-old won the 16km time trial on the Fuji Speedway in 43 minutes 49.41 seconds, almost two minutes ahead of Fabrizio Cornegliani of Italy.

Then the scare. On the main straight of the former Japanese Grand Prix track, on the first of huis 8km laps, another competitor in another class opted for a sho’t left directly in front of him and almost caused a collision, which wasn’t a good thing for a paralysed athlete who also has sight issues.

“I saw him so late, I swerved and tipped on to two wheels, otherwise I would have hit him properly. My arm touched his wheel. That’s how close it was. I was flying.”

Then the story. Du Preez was hit by a car while out on a training ride in 2003. The impact broke his neck, rendering him paralysed from the “nipples down”, as he puts it. When he competes, he is limited to a small group of muscles to go with that immense will. He has no triceps, nor any finger or hand movement, just wrist extension, his biceps and shoulders. But what wide shoulders they are.

And now the tears. “I can’t explain it. It’s very special,” said Du Preez. “I was in tears after I crossed the line, but tonight I think I’m going to have an even bigger cry in my bed. It’s hard to explain the journey here. As a six-year-old I was dreaming about winning gold at the Olympics. Obviously, I hadn’t thought I’d be competing in the Paralympics. Then in 2003 while I was out cycling I broke my neck in an accident. There have been so many tough times and fights to get here that it’s difficult to explain.

“There really is something special about 2021, though, and I have now won both the World Championship title and Paralympic gold this year. The Paralympics should have been held last year, but it [2020] wasn’t a good one for me. I fetched my son from his pre-school and fell badly. I completely dislocated my AC joint, snapped my coracoid process off my scapula and had a plate in there for six months. I couldn’t train properly.”

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