Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius, will be the flag bearer for the South African team at the opening ceremony of the London Paralympics on Wednesday night. Will the South African team of 62 members return as triumphantly as in 2008, when they won thirty medals, 21 of which were gold.
The Games will be a momentous occasion, with 2.3 million tickets already sold for the various events. In all, 4 200 disabled athletes, up from 3 951 in Beijing in 2008, representing 166 countries, will participate. It includes a record 1 513 women as participants.
There will be 14 000 spare parts on standby to repair athletes’ wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs as they compete in 503 medal events.
Tubby Reddy, chief executive of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, told Mail & Guardian last week that 40 medals were possible. “But our main aim is to maintain or improve on our sixth place overall in Beijing,” he added.
Some of the South African hopefuls include the legendary Natalie du Toit, Oscar Pistorius, Hilton Langenhoven and Ernst van Dyk.
Du Toit is South Africa’s most decorated Paralympian with ten gold medals and one silver. She won five gold medals at the Beijing Paralympics and became the first female amputee athlete to compete in the 10km open water swim at the Olympics.
This will be Du Toit’s third consecutive, and possibly her last, Paralympic appearance.
Hilton Langenhoven is a triple gold medallist in the 200m, pentathlon and long jump, along with a silver medal from the Athens Paralympics.
Langenhoven broke the pentathlon world record in 2008 and became the first South African to win gold medals in both track and field.
Pistorius, this year, became the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics. He is a double gold medallist in the 200m (T44) and the 100m and 400m at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
Van Dyk won a record nine wheelchair titles in the Boston Marathon. At the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, he won a silver medal in the 800m race, another silver medal in the 1500 metres and a bronze in the 5000m.
At the Beijing Olympics, Van Dyk won gold in the hand-cycling marathon and a bronze in the wheelchair marathon.
Other medal contenders include the sprinters Fanie van der Merwe, Arnu Fourie and Teboho Mokgalagadi, Ilse Hayes and experienced javelin thrower Zanele Situ.
Charles Bouwer will swim in six events in his third Paralympics. He told Mail & Guardian he aims to repeat his 2010 World Championships performance, when he won silver in the 400m freestyle.
The seventeen year old Marike Naude, a rising star in the world of swimming, is competing in six events. There are high hopes for her, particularly as she could be reclassified in London to enter and easier disability group.
Pistorius was enormously popular at the Olympic Games. He might be less popular at the Paralympics but when the final ceremony takes place on the 9 September, he might boast a gold medal for the 400m. Whether he can win the 100m, 200m and 800 m races, remain to be seen, though.
For the British team, hopes are highest for athletes like Jonnie Peacock, who in June set a new T44 100m record of 10.85s and is expected to challenge Pistorius for gold in the showpiece track event. With Pistorius' long-standing rival Jerome Singleton, of the United States, and a host of other lightning-fast sprinters likely to line up in the final, organisers even predict that all eight runners could dip under 11s.
Whether South Africa can improve on its sixth place at the Paralympics from Beijing in 2008, remains to be seen.
Pieter Badenhorst, chef de mission of South Africa, told Rapport the South African Paralympic team was inspired by the South African Olympic performances at the London Olympics, where South Africa bagged six medals, including three were gold.
The quality of the South African Paralympics is improving annually, but so is the quality of their opposition, he said.
But Team South Africa is also hoping for medals from some of the smaller sports, including equestrian, rowing, wheelchair basketball and wheel chair tennis.
In the equestrian sport, Philippa Johnson is a double gold winner, while wheelchair tennis player Kgothatso Montjane is in the top ten of the world rankings and might just win a medal this year.
The Dutch legend, Esther Vergeer, will not be denied gold easily in wheelchair tennis, as she has won 457 matches in a row to date.
Another legend, Ellie Simmonds has become a poster girl for the Paralympic Games after winning two gold medals in Beijing, aged just thirteen and will again be in action in London.
The opening ceremony will be on Tuesday 28 August at 21h30 and the closing ceremony on the 9 September at 20h30.