Team South Africa’s Paralympic medal chase is off to a golden start after swimmer Kevin Paul powered his way to breaststroke gold in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday night.
Paul, 25, won the SB9 100-metre event in 1min 04.86sec to win his second Paralympic gold medal after doing the same in Beijing eight years ago.
In London four years ago, Paul had to settle for silver in his keynote event.
Paul, formerly of Port Elizabeth but now training in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal with national swimming coach Graham Hill, got off to a great start.
But at the halfway mark he was lying second and Ukraine swimmer Denys Dubrov looked to have stolen a march on the South African. But Paul is noted for his strong finish and that came to the fore as he got up to edge Dubrov into silver (1.05.10).
Earlier Paul had dominated his heat, winning in 1:06.19 to book his place in the final.
“It wasn’t my personal best but tonight was never about time, it was about getting into that pool and getting to the 100m first. I can jump into the pool next week and swim a faster time but it’s not going to get me a Paralympic gold,” said Paul after getting gold.
“My coach and I discussed this beforehand and it was about going out comfortably and steady.
“Looking back at Beijing and getting on to those blocks as a 17-year-old and getting away with a gold I don’t think I really knew what it meant but but I truly appreciate it now and also how much work goes into it.”
Referring to his training group, Paul said: “It’s such a competitive group and you get there at 5am and just see everyone there with the same goal as you. It wasn’t just me in the pool tonight, it was the whole squad, coach and family etc.”
Paul can now take a bit of a breather before his 200 Individual Medley later in the Games.
In other swimming action teenager Alani Ferreira started what could be a long and successful Paralympic career as she competed in the S13 100m butterfly.
She ended sixth in 1:24.23, more than 17sec off the pace but the Epworth High School (Pietermaritzburg) schoolgirl can be excused her share of debutant nerves.
Although she failed to progress to the final, she was still over the moon, if a little shell-shocked.
“Wow wow wow wow wow….what an experience! It hit me on my way to the call room that I was at the Paralympics.
“I felt ready to go for it but when I got behind the block my legs did not agree, they went numb, and nerves and the shock hit me like a brick wall. I hit a blank and went out way too fast but I can surely say I tried my best?.
“And despite all my first time race effects I still swam an S13 100m fly African record and have had the experience of a life time swimming my first ‘big race’ which I will never forget.
“Now its time to focus on the next one, and really push myself to the limit. This is definitely the beginning of something new.”
Ferreira certainly has something to look forward to as she qualified in no fewer than four events for Rio at the nationals in Durban earlier this year.