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[ 2008-08-21 11:47 ]




South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, who lost her leg in a motorcycle accident , will compete in the 10km race. [Agencies]

Even if she does not win a medal, South African swimmer Natalie du Toit's journey to the Olympic Games has already won hearts around the world as a triumph of courage over tragedy.

Du Toit, 24, lost her left leg in a motorcycle accident in 2001 a year after narrowly failing to qualify for Sydney. She will compete in today's 10km open water race, a new Olympic event and one of the most punishing of the Games.

None of the swimmers in the water equivalent of the road marathon will make allowances for du Toit's disability, no one ever does, and she will be elbowed, pulled, ducked and drafted like everyone else at the turning buoys and "feeding pontoons".

"They won't make it easy for her, they will be banging and pushing," du Toit's coach, Karoly von Toros, told Reuters. "There is no respect for her disability. She doesn't even want it."

Du Toit, who carried South Africa's flag at the Beijing Games' Opening Ceremony, was one of only two athletes to enter both the Olympics and the Paralympics and could become the first amputee to win a medal at a Summer Games for 56 years.

Fellow South African amputee, 400m runner Oscar Pistorius who runs with carbon-fibre prosthetic blades, failed to set an individual qualifying time for Beijing.

The Cape Town-bred du Toit was identified as a potential Olympian in her early teens.

But her career appeared to have been cut short in February 2001 when a car hit her as she rode past on a scooter. Her left leg was amputated at the knee after it began to turn gangrenous and a titanium rod was inserted into her femur.

Three months later, she was back in the water.

Du Toit, who wears a prosthetic leg out of the water, had previously been a medley swimmer but decided to concentrate on long distances because they require less kicking.

She missed out on qualification for the 2004 Athens Olympics but competed in the Paralympics that year, winning five gold medals and a silver. She also won gold against able-bodied swimmers in the 1,500m freestyle at last year's All Africa Games.

In non-Olympic years, du Toit spends a lot of time giving motivational talks to schools, companies and churches in South Africa. She talks of her life, how everyone should have a goal and tells listeners they should never give up on their dreams.

Her own childhood dream of qualifying for the Olympics eventuated at the Seville 10km event in May. She finished fourth, just 5.1 seconds behind the winner, Larisa Ilchenko of Russia, the favourite for this week's race. Du Toit says she is not the toughest swimmer in the water at 10km events. "I get hit more than I dish out -- I've had a few blue eyes in my time," she told journalists before the Games.

Her coach says that, as an arms swimmer, she will also have to work harder than others toward the end of the race when competitors start using their legs to pull away from the pack.

Von Toros is confident, however, the weeks of intense training since Seville and the five hours she put in every day during two weeks of acclimatisation in South Korea will pay off.

"We have never worked so hard as we did for this," he said. "She is strong."


 (实习生吴昭文 英语点津 Helen 编辑)



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