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“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"

Natalie du Toit driven to succeed at final Games after winning South Africa's first gold

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Natalie du Toit driven to succeed at final Games after winning South Africa's first gold
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2012 9:33 am Download PostRate Post

Natalie du Toit won her 11th Paralympic gold medal on Thursday night. In fact, so dominant is the great South African swimmer of her calling, it would be considerably more newsworthy if the female Michael Phelps had not won.

But there was never a chance of that. Though she has announced she is to retire after this competition, there appeared to be no let-up in her competitive drive.

In her first of multiple pursuits of gold across seven disciplines in these Games, the world and Paralympic record holder simply tore away from the field in the S9 100 metre butterfly as if she had been fitted with an outboard motor.

Her huge shoulders thrashing through the water, she did enough to consign the promising Spaniard Sarai Gascon to a silver medal while conserving energy for events ahead.

And afterwards, as she handed her gold medal over to friends to take photographs of each other wearing it, she revealed that she was still able to take something from success long after it became routine at this level of competition.

“For me it’s about trying to better myself all the time not just getting a medal,” she said. “To come away first was something I wanted to do as it’s the last ever time I race that race. So in that respect and I’ve achieved it.”

Du Toit, however, did not sound as if the victory marked the most significant achievement of her career. Subdued and distant as she spoke, she is still clearly smarting from not being selected by South Africa for the main event three weeks ago.

It was not for wont of trying. She qualified for the Beijing Olympics, the first amputee ever to do so, and won many a plaudit after coming home 16th in the 10k open-water race. This despite lacking what might be considered a prerequisite for an elite distance swimmer, her right leg. It had been severed in a motorbike accident when she was just 17 and already one of South Africa’s most promising water-based talents.

But she had never allowed the accident to curtail her ambition (she was back in the pool training but a month after it) and had set her heart on being here for the London Games.

“That’s something I’ll take a long time to deal with,” she said. “It was a goal, it was a dream, it’s been extremely tough and I’m still not over it.” Du Toit had been thwarted in her attempt for double exposure by what she described as “politics” in South African swimming circles.

“I’m not allowed to talk about it, I’ve signed a contract,” she said. “But there’s absolutely nothing I could have done differently and that’s why I can walk away knowing I’ve given everything, tried my best. I walk away knowing there was nothing I could have said or changed in any way.”

Whatever the root cause of her disappointment, unlike her compatriot Oscar Pistorius, it has meant that the woman who has forged a successful career as a motivational speaker has been obliged to concentrate solely on the Paralympic Games. And she has certainly made the most blistering of starts.

“I’m in seven races, but there’s one I know I can’t get. The 50 freestyle will be very tough, you blink and it’s over, not much use for me as a distance swimmer. As for the other six, well I’ll give it a go, give it a bash.”

We have been warned. Watching Natalie du Toit in muscular, powerful action on Thursday evening in the pool, it appears if she decides to give anything a bash it stands little chance of resistance.

South African on target for seven golds

South African swimmer Natalie Du Toit, winner in Thursday's women’s S9 100m butterfly, claimed five golds at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and five more at the 2008 Games in Beijing. Du Toit, whose left leg was amputated at the knee in 2001 after being hit by a car, is not one to rest on her laurels – she hopes to enjoy the perfect swansong to her career by winning seven events in London.

She set herself on the right path on Thursday. In what will prove to be a punishing schedule, these are the remaining finals she hopes to contest:

Friday, Aug 31: 100m backstroke
Tue, Sept 4: 400m freestyle
Wed, Sept 5: 50m freestyle
Thu, Sept 6: 200m individual medley
Fri, Sept 7: 100m freestyle
Sat, Sept 8: 100m breaststroke

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