Headline News


Disabled Du Toit worth a medal

Source: Xinhua | 08-20-2008 14:38

Special Report:   2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Natalie du Toit pulled herself onto the dock and waited for someone to bring her prosthetic leg. She stretched out the other leg - the one she didn't lose in that horrendous motorcycle accident - and chatted with her coach about the first open water race in Olympic history.

Du Toit didn't finish where she wanted. Not even close.

Natalie Du Toit of South Africa talks to her coach after women's marathon 10km competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games swimming event in Beijing, China, Aug. 20, 2008. Natalie Du Toit ranked the 16th of the event. Du Toit, whose left leg was amputated in 2001 after she was injured in a road accident, is an athlete for both Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and Paralympic Olympics. (Xinhua/Liu Dawei)
Natalie Du Toit of South Africa talks to her 
coach after women's marathon 10km competition 
at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games swimming 
event in Beijing, China, Aug. 20, 2008. Natalie 
Du Toit ranked the 16th of the event. Du Toit, 
whose left leg was amputated in 2001 after she 
was injured in a road accident, is an athlete 
for both Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and Paralympic 
Olympics. (Xinhua/Liu Dawei)

But just making it to Beijing was a huge victory for someone with a disability.

Hoping to contend for a medal, the 24-year-old South African amputee fell off the pace toward the end of the grueling 10km (6.2 mile) race and finished 16th, more than a minute behind gold medalist Larisa Ilchenko of Russia.

"I tried my best," du Toit said. "I'm not too happy with it, but I'll be back for 2012."

Don't bet against her.

When she walked out with 24 other swimmers to be introduced for the historic event, it was quickly apparent this wasn't just another competitor.

Du Toit hobbled along stiffly on her artificial leg, No. 23 written on her back and both arms. While others bounced up and down to loosen up, she settled for shaking her arms. A couple of times, she walked over to the edge to splash water on her face and goggles, leaning over tenuously with her metal prosthetic sticking out to the side, serving as balance.

When it was time to race, she walked onto the dock and removed her replacement leg. Someone moved it away, and du Toit sat at the edge of the water, her right leg dangling in. When the starter called for everyone to get ready, she pulled herself up, wobbled just a bit and dove in.

She was an Olympian.

Du Toit hung with the lead pack most of the race, but couldn't keep up when the pace quickened toward the end of the two-hour ordeal. She finished 1 min, 22.2 sec behind Ilchenko, who out-sprinted two British swimmers who led most of the way.

But du Toit's time of 2 hr, 49 min, 9 sec put her ahead of nine others, including 16-year-old American Chloe Sutton, who broke down in tears after finishing, every part of her body cramping and aching.

"I've got to get faster," said du Toit, who looked like she could swim another 10km. "The race will obviously improve. This is the first time they've swum it at the Olympics. It's going to get faster and faster."