(Rio de Janeiro) – Sixteen years after she became the first black woman to win a Paralympic gold medal for South Africa, Zanele Situ rolled on to a podium again, winning bronze in the javelin on a warm, sticky night in Rio.
Except that for much of the competition, she didn’t know that she was in bronze medal position. Situ thought she was fourth.
Situ was competing in a combined class: F54, her category, and F53, the more severely disabled. A complicated equation of points and handicaps decides who wins.
“After the first round I thought I was fourth and I was out of the medals. So in the second round I was just trying my best. I didn’t go to check my position. I was giving everything,” said Situ, who was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony.
It was her fourth Paralympic medal, her third in the javelin, her favourite event. It was an all-African podium in the javelin, with Nigeria’s Flora Ugwunwa claiming the gold with a world-record throw of 20.25m. Hania Aidi of Tunisia, sporting blue hair, took home silver. For Situ, the medal was sweet reward on her fifth and possibly last Paralympics. At the age of 45, she has two gold and a bronze in the javelin, and a silver in discus.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said a beaming Situ. “I’m happy. I didn’t really expect to win. As I said before, in this competition you can’t really be 100 percent sure where you are standing, especially when you don’t know the people who are new. If you are used to competing against some people, then you can work out where you are standing. I didn’t know some of the new people.”
For a while, it looked as though Situ might take home gold. Her third throw of the night was her best, and broke the Paralympic record with a 17.90-metres effort. Situ’s path to the Paralympics began when she was 12, after she became paralysed from the fourth vertebrae down with what is believed to have been a TB infection. One day she began feeling week. A few days later, she could not walk.
Now, at 45, she is the oldest Paralympian in team. Today the youngest, 14-year old Ntando Mahlangu will be back in action for South Africa on the track in the 100m heats. Anrune Liebenberg is set to continue South Africa’s medal run in the 400m tonight, while Lucas Sithole will play in the bronze medal match in the wheelchair tennis competition. Ernst van Dyk begins his farewell to the Paralympics – his seventh Games – with the 20km time trial. He has never won a medal in the time trial.
“I’ve been fourth in Beijing and fifth in London, but I’m feeling good. We have had some good rides this week. It’s such a difficult event to gauge how hard you are going and tracing deep within yourself and turning yourself inside out to push to the limit. It’s just you and the clock,” said Van Dyk.
This story was sourced from IOL