This year’s Nedbank National Championships for Physically Disabled athletes turned out to be an historic event. Junior and senior track and field athletes gave it their all at this, the last chance on home soil, to qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The event produced two World Records (WR), nine African Records (AR) and 70 South African Records (SAR) from athletes across the country, including Namibia, and Lesotho. Louzanne Coetzee, with guide Khotatso Mokone, followed-up her AR (05:18.44s) in the 1500m T11* with gold in the 800m (02:52.00s). The ‘Kovsies’ athlete finished with a World Record (19:17.60s) in the 5000m on the last day of competition.

Day Three also saw fourteen year old Ntando Mahlangu break the 400m T42 World Record (53.19s), adding to his African Records in the 100m (13.34s), 200m (26.20s) and, unofficially, the 800m (2:14.00s) races.

“I am happy with my results, it is what I have been training for,” says the Laërskool Constantiapark learner.  Ntando will be back in action at next week’s ‘able’ nationals in the under-16 division. African Records in the 400m also came from Christiaan Schultz (T44) with a time of 57.16 seconds in the Men’s Open, and Norejaan Jones (T37) – achieving a Rio qualifying 1 minute 3.14 seconds in the Girls 16 dash.

Top ranked Andrea Dalle Ave (T37) took care of another sterling performance in Men’s Open Long Jump.  The UJ student leapt to 6.16 meter, bettering his own African Record and personal best. The result is recognised internationally, but will not count, due to wind.

Also in Long Jump, Dineo Anna Mokhosoa (T36) set an AR with her leap (2.90m) and, Juanelie Meijer (T38) equalled her record (4.23m), a Rio qualifying distance, to add to her SA Record (14.43s) in the 100m race. Adding two African Records on the field, Hermanus Blom (F12) was on fire in the Men’s Open Shot Put (12.81m) and Discus (48.63m) items. In the Women’s division, F44 shot putter, Maria Combrink’s qualifying 9.15 meter heave took care of another AR, while Zanele Situ equalled her record (17.16m) in the javelin.

Back on track, Paralympian Ilse Hayes (T13) ran a SA Record (56.20s) in the 400 meter race, for another gold to add to her 200m (25.14s) and 100m (12.07s) results at the competition. Hayes, and other competing National athletes, achieved Rio qualifying results in their respective divisions.

Stand-out performances came from under-20 sprinter, Liezel Gouws (T37), who set three SA Records, and under -16 athlete, Megan Croucamp (T/F42) adding four SA Records to her name. Grey College’s Arnu Fourie (T44) produced a world class 100m (11.16s) in a race marking the first time in twelve years that the Paralympian was seen in action in Bloemfontein. Similarly, sprinter Fanie van der Merwe (T37) achieved a Rio qualifying 11.71 seconds in the 100m to add a final national gold to his collection in his last race at this level.

“With 13 consecutive SA Championships, and more than 20 gold medals, Fanie is a true champion who leaves a legacy far greater than his performances,” says Coach, Suzanne Ferreira. Van der Merwe won his first gold in the ‘City of Roses’ ten years ago, also the last time that the province hosted this event. Coming full circle, with a gold on the same track, is a fitting farewell.

“It is such an honour to run my final Nationals in Bloemfontein. I am originally from the Free State and have such love for the province,” says Van der Merwe. Having also run his final 200m at the World Championships in Doha last year, his first ever sub-23;  Van der Merwe has now set his sights on Rio.

“I am excited to defend my title and I’m going to the Games with confidence. Whatever happens, I am grateful for all that I’ve achieved, I have no regrets. That, to me, is the most important thing,” he concludes.


T/F11-13 Track/Field, sight impaired

T/F35-38 Track/Field, cerebral palsy

T/F42-47 Track/Field, lower/upper limb amputee

T/F52-58 Track/Field, spinal cord injury

Written by: Liezel van Rensburg

Photo by: Martin Potgieter