Natalie du Toit was the star for Team South Africa at the International Paralympic Committee’s Swimming World Championships in Eindhoven, Holland, which ended on the weekend, claiming six gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
Du Toit, who earlier this year was crowned the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability, ended on a high by dominating the opposition in the five-kilometre open water swim.
She completed the event in one hour and 22 seconds, finishing a massive six minutes and 26 seconds ahead of second-placed Elodie Lorandi of France.
Better than the men
Not only did she finish first among the swimmers in classes S1 to S10, she also bettered the best time swum by a man in the event. Australia’s Brendan Hall won the men’s race in one hour, one minute and 13 seconds.
Du Toit began the championships in winning form, picking up gold in the 100 metres S9 class on the opening day in a time of 1:08.30, more than two-and-a-half seconds clear of second-placed Sarai Gasco. It wasn’t as fast as Du Toit’s own world record, however, which she set at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
On day two she contested the 200 metres individual medley in the SM9 class and again was too much for her opponents, winning the gold medal in 2:32.11, with Louise Watkin some way back in second in 2:37.71.
On the same day she took part in the 100 metres breaststroke in the SB 8 class and finished in the bronze medal position.
Du Toit scored her third gold medal on day three when she won the 100 metres freestyle in 1:02.79. As happened in a number of her events during the course of the championships, she didn’t set a new world record (something that has become almost a common occurrence), but that was once again because the record belonged to her already.
The next day Du Toit was the winner of the 400 metres freestyle in 4:30.64, which saw her bettering second-placed Stephanie Millward by a massive 16.23 seconds.
The South African golden girl was a little off her best on the fifth day of competition, having to settle for second in the 50 metres freestyle in 29.65 seconds. Louise Watkin won in 29.26 – 0.22 seconds off Du Toit’s world record.
On day six, Du Toit captured the 100 metres backstroke title in the S9 category in 1:09.93, with world record holder Stephanie Dixon (1:09.30) relegated to third place.
More South African medals
Kevin Paul won silver the 100 metres breaststroke in the men’s SB 9 class. His time of 1:07.29 was a South African record.
Charl Bouwer collected two silver medals. He finished behind Dzmitry Salei in the 100 metres freestyle in the S13 category in 53.38 seconds, just 0.01 seconds outside the previous world record. Salei, however, set a new mark of 53.15.
Bouwer was second in the 400 metres freestyle in 4:11.77, well inside the world record that he had held of 4:13.10. Unfortunately for the South African, Ihar Boki had destroyed the previous mark, racing to victory in 4:06.91.
South Africa finished 13th on the medals table. Only three countries bettered Du Toit’s personal haul of six gold medals in women’s events.
Ukraine topped the table, just ahead of the USA, with Russia in third place.
While South Africa’s medal haul was not a big one, many swimmers qualified for finals and came close to landing more medals besides those won, underlining the fact that Paralympic swimming is in good health in the country.