South Africa’s Hilton Langenhoven joined the ranks of the Paralympic greats on Tuesday when he won his third gold medal in the Beijing National Stadium.
The visually impaired athlete added the 200m T13 title in 21.94 seconds to his gold medals in the pentathlon and long jump, winning ahead of two Chinese runners who had the support of nearly 80 000 people in the stands.
“He’s the story of the Paralympics,” said Fanie Lombard, who just minutes later won the men’s discus F42 final in 46.75m. “I knew the roar as I ran down the straight was for them, so I just had to keep my composure,” said Langenhoven.
He got off to a slow start, but he ran a good bend and entered the home straight marginally in front of Li Yansong. As he dug deep, he pulled away for a winning margin of 27 hundredths of a second. As he crossed the line, he held three fingers aloft – a sign to remind himself and his coach Suzaan Ferreira of their goal of three golds.
The Somerset West boy gave up work for two years to achieve his goal, getting support from a local non-governmental organisation Echo and family and friends.
Lombard took bronze in his shotput event earlier in the games, and his discus gold took his haul over four Paralympics to eight golds, making him the highest medal winner for South Africa with his two silvers and two bronze.
“I wanted to go for my world record,” said Lombard, who has a right leg amputation, “but when I got my second throw out there, and Matt Brown of the United States hadn’t responded with a big one of his own, I was pretty confident.”
His winning effort was 2.01m ahead of sliver medallist Mehrdad Karam Zadeh of Iran. Lombard praised the efforts of the South African team, which, with 19 golds, and three more in its sights later on Tuesday, can finish ahead of sporting giant Australia in the medal race.
“Now we need to take what we have done for these games, and keep doing better with it,” he said. “We have to support people who make sacrifices for their country, and London in 2012 will be amazing.”
Lombard, 39, would not be drawn on whether he would be part of the team. “All I can tell you is there is going to be a big celebration tonight,” he said.