Disabled swimming and the Paralympics

2006 IPC Championships - Durban
2010 IPC Championships - Eindhoven

Swimming has been one of the main sports of the Paralympics since the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.  (World Para Swimming).

Athletes having either a physical disability or blindness/visual impairment may be eligible to compete in the sport. Athletes are classified based on their functional ability to perform each stroke.

In 1962 The South African Paraplegic Games Association was founded by the Rotary Club of Orange Grove in Johannesburg which catered for persons with spinal cord injuries. Paralympic Games began in 1960, and until 1976 they were limited to wheelchair athletes only. From 1976 the Paralympics coincided with the Olympic Games. Rhodesia was banned after 1972 and South Africa participated in the 1976 Paralympic Games before being excluded until 1992 in Barcelona, where Tadhg Slattery won a gold medal. 

In 1960 at the first event in Rome Margaret Harriman of Rhodesia won three medals, and  at the 1964 Paralympic Games in Tokyo Lynnette Gilchrist and Leslie Manson-Bishop of Rhodesia won 4 medals each - two of only three swimmers to win 4 medals in those Games. South Africa managed one gold, three silver and a bronze medal.

In the swimming at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games Rhodesia was 5th on the medals table with 15 medals - 5 gold - while South Africa's Willie Nel and D. Lewis won 1 gold and 2 each of silver and bronze.

At the 1972 Paralympic Games held at the Heidelberg University in Germany, South Africa finished third on the medals table, with Rhodesia in 8th. Willie Bosch set a world record in the  100m freestyle, winning by seven seconds. The men's team finished second in the 3x100m medley relay (names unknown).

The 1976 Paralympic Games were held three days after the close of the Olympic Games in Montreal. Non-wheelchair bound athletes were able to compete for the first time, and South Africa won 3 silver and two bronze medals.

1992 South Africa is re-admitted to international sports competitions,and swimmers competed at the Barcelona Paralympic Games winning 4 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals. Tadhg Slattery won gold in the Men's 100 m Breaststroke SB5 class, beginning a career that would strech until the 2008 Games where he bronze in the same event.

Willie Bosch  "In 1970 I was selected in a Springbok team to compete in France and the United Kingdom for swimming, and returned with one gold and one silver medal. I was again in the Paralympic team to the 1972 Paralympics in Germany and returned with a new world record in the men’s 100m freestyle and obviously my gold medal."

Jean-Jacques Terblance and Ebert Kleynhans both won gold at Atlanta in 1996, and in 2000 Ebert would win two more gold medals at the Athens Paralympic Games. 

In 2004 Natalie du Toit made her first appearance  at the Paralympic Games as a disabled swimmer, winning 5 gold medals. In 2008 she would compete in both the Paralympics and the Olympic Games, swimming the 10 km open water event, and winning 5 gold medals in the Paralympic swimming.  At the London 2012 Games she won three more gold medals. 
Athlete Country Year(s) Gold Silver Bronze Total
MANSON-BISHOP Leslie RHO 1964 - 1968 6 2    
KLEYNHANS Ebert RSA 1996-2000 3 1 0 4
SLATTERY Tadhg RSA 1992-2008 2 3 1 6
van der RIET M. RSA 1972-1976 2 2 2 6
SCOTT Andrew James  RHO 1968 - 1972 2 2 1 5
BOUWER Charles RSA 2008-2012 2 2 0 4
PAUL Kevin RSA 2008-2016 2 1 0 3
NEL Willie RSA 1968 1 1 1 3
BOSCH Willie RSA 1972 1 1 0 2
TERBLANCHE Jean-Jacques RSA 1996 1 0 1 2
FIELD Scott RSA 2000-2004 0 5 2 7
LEWIS D RSA 1968 0 1 1 2
VENTER Hannes RSA 2000 0 1 1 2
POPPERWELL G RSA 1964   1    
GROENEWALD Craig RSA 1996-2000 0 0 4 4
HOLLAND David  RHO 1968     1  
GRIFFITHS Glynn  RHO 1968   1 1  
GOLDHAWK Peter  RHO 1968   1    
ALCOCK  RSA 1972     1  
SOUTH AFRICA - 4x100 medley relay RSA 1972   1    
ENGLISH Kevin  RHO 1972     1  
CROUSE J. RSA 1976   1    
HERBST Hendri RSA 2012     1  
HASSIEM Achmat RSA 2012     1  

Athlete Country Year(s) Gold Silver Bronze Total
du TOIT Natalie RSA 2004-2012 13 2 0 15
van der SCHYFF Riana RSA 1972 3 0 0 3
SOMERSET A. RSA 1964 1 2 0 3
SAPIRO Shireen RSA 2008-2012 1 0 1 2
LOUW RSA 1972 0 1 2 3
SCHAEFER M. RSA 1972-1976 0 0 3 3
GILCHRIST Lynnette RHO 1964 3 1    
THESEN N RSA 1964     1  
COPPARD Sandra  RHO 1968 2      
TOMLINSON Virginia  RHO 1968   1 1  
THOMPSON Jacqueline RHO 1968   1 1  
le ROUX RSA 1972 1      
SOUTH AFRICA - 4x50 medley relay RSA 1972 1      
SOUTH AFRICA - 4x100 medley relay RSA 1972     1  
JAMES Sandra RHO 1972 1 1    
ROBERTSON Eileen  RHO 1972   2    
PRINSLOO Elizabeth RSA 1996     1  

17 March 1977  - Disabled Coreen Swanepoel of Oranjemund sets a record for the Robben Island swim, using only her arms. Her coach was Cees Jonker of the Paarl Swimming club. Seen with Tony Bales after her swim.

Disabled swimmers competed at the 1969 South African Games. Riana van der Schyff, a 16 year old girls from Griqualand West, set three world records in the swimming events.

A March 193 article from VIGOR magazine about disabled children at the Hope Training Home for Crippled Children in Johannesburg. Swimming teacher mr. R Black describes how he helps the children develop confidence through their learn to swim program.

Disabled swimmers from South West Africa - 20 March 1987

How Terblanche beats the tension

13 Sep 1996

Loud music eased the tension for Jean-Jacques Terblanche before his big race in Atlanta, and it inspired him to win gold, writes Julian Drew

PARALYMPIC champion Jean-Jacques Terblanche is not an athlete who succumbs to big match nerves. As he sat in the call-up room waiting for his 200m individual medley final at the Georgia Tech Aquatics Centre, where Penny Heyns had spun her magic spell a few weeks earlier, he was the image of relaxed composure.

While all around him stared nervously into space or tried to psyche each other out, the youthful Terblanche listened to music with a wide grin on his face, Nine Inch Nails driving through his head—- his choice of music, not the latest technique from the land of the Blue Bulls to get sportsmen revved up.

It’s industrial music, not funny music. The grin was for the antics of one his rivals who was doing his best rendition of Fred Deburghgraeve’s giant frog leaps while emitting strange grunting noises. Olympic lOOm breaststroke champion Deburghgraeve might unsettle the opposition with his pre-race ritual but Terblanche merely found this display amusing.

Although by nature Terblanche is not easily ruffled, he takes his swimming very seriously and had engaged the services of a sports psychologist in his build- up to the Paralympics. “I saw him twice before Malta (1994 world championships) and around 10 times before Atlanta,” says Terblanche. “My mum first suggested I go to see a sports psychologist and I thought if it would help then why not.”

Besides visualisation techniques and special exercises to loosen up and stay relaxed he was told to listen to music before the race. “If you are tense you should listen to laid back music to calm you down but I’m so laid back I have to listen to loud, heavy music,” says Terblanche by way of explaining his usual pre-race fare of Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin or Nine Inch Nails.

Even in his first international competition when he won the world title in Malta as a 14-year-old, Terblanche handled himself like a seasoned campaigner twice his age.

“In Malta this guy sat opposite me and started staring at me, but I wasn’t worried because my sports psychologist told me that’s what they would do. I just stared back at him and it wasn’t 30 seconds before he got up and walked away. He’s never tried that again because he knows it doesn’t work on me.”

Perhaps after the incredible success of the Paralympic team in Atlanta—- 28 medals from 41 athletes—- the South African public will take our disabled sportsmen and women a little more seriously. But should anyone still doubt them then the punishing preparation behind Terblanche’s triumphs should help to sway them. “Before Malta I was doing between 5 000m and 6 000m a day in the pool but this year I increased that to 8 000m,” he says. In comparison, Penny Heyns does 6 000m in a typical session.

Terblanche did his daily workouts after school, slogging away for close on three hours. “My school work became quite a problem because often I’d be so tired I’d just fall asleep while doing my homework. The opportunity to compete in the Paralympics doesn’t come often though and I decided I must just go for it,” says Terblanche, who will do his matric next year.

Although that tough training regimen carried him to the gold medal and two world records, it didn’t come without its setbacks. In the early part of this year he got breaststrokers knee and couldn’t kick properly in training, and then two months before the Games he injured his shoulder and had to stop training for five months and have cortisone injections. “It was so painful at one stage that I couldn’t even bring my arm over my head to pull a single stroke,” he recalls with a grimace.

Those injuries may have cost Terblanche vital training time at a crucial stage in his programme, but they still could not keep him from achieving his goal. Just as he had in Malta where he set his first world record, Terblanche came from behind on the backstroke leg, the second of the four disciplines in the medley, and hauled Germany’s Holger Kimmig in on his favourite breaststroke leg before setting up a thrilling finish in the freestyle.

Kimmig is faster than the South Atrican in the freestyle and as he turned just a fraction of a second down on Terblanche he must have sensed victory. Terblanche had paced himself to perfection though and pulled steadily clear to win by more than three seconds, eclipsing his world record trom the heats of 2:42.36 to set a new mark of 2:40.83.

“In the heats I felt as though I was stuck in the water and I was really struggling so I was surprised when I broke the world record. In the evening everything was perfect though and I really enjoyed it. My stroke was just right and to break the world record and know that you have done your best is an incredible feeling,” says Terblanche.

While the efforts and achievements of Terblanche and his fellow Paralympians are certainly the equal of any of South Africa’s sports stars, they still receive scant recognition and are often treated as either super heroes for overcoming such circumstances or special cases deserving of sympathy. The truth is that disabled sportsmen, and people with disabilities in general, just want to be treated like everyone else and given the same recognition as their able bodied counterparts.

Terblanche, who lost the use of his lett arm after a car accident when he was two which injured his neck, is fortunate that he has been exposed to less discrimination than most disabled people. “I’m lucky because if I put my hand in my pocket you can’t really see that I’m disabled. I don’t need much help from anyone but if you are in a wheelchair it’s a totally different situation.

“Many people just don’t know how to behave around people with disabilities and although they mean well it can be frustrating when they try to help. I would rather ask for help than have somebody offer it to me,” says Terblanche.

His swimming career started when he was seven and he entered a school inter-house gala and came second in the 50m breaststroke. “I’m still so proud of that silver medal,” he says. A short while later he started training with his friend’s swimming coach, Linda de Jager, and he has been with her ever since.

“I must say she has been a very supportive coach. She never made me feel different from all the others, which is the way I preter it. I think that’s the best thing she could have done for me because I was just like all the other little kids.”.

In standard one he was actually the top-ranked 50m breaststroker in Northern Transvaal and it was only when he was 12 that he discovered there was competition for the disabled. “I entered five events at the national championships in Stellenbosch, competing in the under-14 age group, and I broke four South African records,” he says.

That was the beginning of a career whose rise has been meteoric and which should go on for many years to come. “I’m still young so to stop now would be crazy. My times can only get faster and I’m going to carry on competing at the world championships and Paralympics,” says the young man from Afrikaans High School in Pretoria who wants to go to hotel school in Geneva after matriculating and spending a year working and travelling in England.

Here's our swimming squad!

2004 South African Paralympic Games swim team

Tadhg Slattery - Tadhg set a new world 50m breaststroke record of 42,21 seconds at the recent Telkom SA Aquatics Championships in Durban last month. He won a silver medal in this event in Sydney 2000. He also won silver in Sydney in the 200m individual medley.

Christiaan du Plessis - This Durbanite’s events include the 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 100m backstroke. He raced in three finals at the 2002 World Swimming Championships.

Oliver Nathan - First spotted at the International Paralympics Committee Swimming Championships where he participated in the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle and 100m butterfly events. He broke the 50m butterfly world record last year.

Ebert Kleynhans - Visual impaired due to muscular degeneration, he set a world record and won gold in the 50m freestyle event at Sydney 2000.

Charl Bouwer - Hailing from Kimberley in the Northern Cape, this talented swimmer is only 14 years old. He won four gold medals at the Australian Junior Championships. His events are 50m/100m freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.

Scott Field - The world 100m freestyle record holder, he also won silver for this event as well as in the 50m freestyle event, and a bronze in the 100m butterfly at Sydney 2000.

Ntombo Somtswayi – Suffers from bilateral paralysis of the lower limbs due to polio when she was a little girl. Tipped to win a gold medal in the freestyle and backstroke events at Athens this year.

Elizabeth von Wechmar - Her achievements include the 400m freestyle South African record and the 100m breaststroke South African record.

Natalie du Toit - Natalie needs little introduction but this is her long-awaited disabled sport debut.

Handri de Beer - Visually impaired. She has competed at two finals at the IPC World Champs 2002 in Argentina. Her strokes are freestyle (50m, 100m and 400m) and butterfly (100m).

Management accompanying the squad will be Ruthmaree Smith, Karin Hugo and Roleen Selby.

Natalie du Toit and Ebert Kleynhans of the South African Paralympic Team at the Mandeville Sport Club in Johannesburg.

Disabled Sport in the New South Africa

March 12, 2015

Andy Scott was recently inducted to the Hall of Fame and wrote the foreword to the book commemorating its inauguration.

He is a former Paralympian who has remained loyal to the cause even after his retirement from top level competition.

During the ‘70s and ‘80s, isolation had severely impacted disabled sport in South Africa, where funding and sponsorships were virtually unheard of, and media interest was nonexistent.

In 1990, with the political landscape clearly set for change, the South African Sports Association for Physically Disabled (SASAPD) received a token invitation to send 10 athletes to the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games. SASAPD was then the local member of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

The team astounded the sporting world by winning 3 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals. South Africa was ready to return to its winning ways and build on a proud record established before isolation.

Sports Minister Steve Tshwete initiated an umbrella body that would cater for all disabled athletes. The resultant SASAPD administered participation at the Paralympic Games and other international competitions staged by IPC members, including events for specific disabilities such as amputee, paraplegic, cerebral palsy and visually impaired.

Enthusiasm and marketing prowess The National Paralympic Committee of South Africa (NAPCOSA) was constituted in 1994 with Peter Goldhawk (a former paralympian) elected as President. Andy Scott (former paralympian and Executive Director of SASAPD) and Paul Singh (President of SASA-II) were Vice Presidents. Eighteen months later, Scott’s enthusiasm and marketing prowess saw him being appointed as the CEO of NAPCOSA.

NAPCOSA’s first task was to send teams to the 1994 IPC world athletic and swimming championships in Berlin and Malta. Both teams performed exceptionally, with several Paralympic stars shining through. These included athletes Fanie Lombaard, Michael Louwrens, Malcolm Pringle and Pieter Badenhorst and swimmers Tadhg Slattery and Jean Jacques Terblanche. Despite South Africa’s re-emergence as a major force in disabled sport, SA disabled athletes were mysteriously excluded on the invitation by the Commonwealth Games Committee (only able-bodied athletes were considered). This prompted Scott to comment to the media that athletes with disabilities were “disabled, discarded and disgusted”. The outburst gained much public support and displayed the solidarity of NAPCOSA.


NAPCOSA’s first taste of ‘the big time’ came in 1996 when South Africa qualified to participate in the Atlanta (USA) Paralympic games with 42 athletes in 5 sport codes. The team returned with 10 gold, 8 silver and 10 bronze medals. The team is remembered for adopting the nickname Amakrokokroko in the spirit of the ‘Amabokke-bokke’ national rugby team and ‘Bafana-Bafana’ national football team.

Late 1996 saw Goldhawk and Scott appointed directors on the Cape Town 2004 Olympic bid. This ensured that the disabled would have a voice in the process, and if Cape Town were to win, it was agreed between the International Olympic Committee and the IPC that the Paralympics would be an integral part of the event.

Basking in the success of the 1996 Paralympic team, NAPCOSA began securing major corporate sponsors to participate in a 4-year programme as opposed to once-off events such as Atlanta.

SAA, Vodacom, Telkom and Sun International joined forces with Atlanta partners Nedbank, Pick ’n Pay, Nike and Mercedes-Benz. Together with backing from Government, NAPCOSA was financially equipped to prepare a full team, including medical and support staff.

New heroes

It became clear that Government was starting to take disabled sport very seriously. Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour and Deputy President Jacob Zuma witnessed the 62 South African Paralympians reel in 38 medals (13 golds), placing them an amazing 13th on the medals table. New heroes emerged, including Javelin sensation Zanele Situ setting a world record for her gold medal.

Pressure was building from SASA-II and SADSF who feared losing their identity. They were excluded from the Paralympic Games. So, a non-profit company was registered under the name Disability Sport South Africa in 2001 which assumed the functions of NAPCOSA. However, DISSA was expected to administer all elite sports for the disabled with limited funding. The only property that was secure was the Paralympic team and its Sydney partners, with newcomer Dimension Data to campaign the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. With assistance from the National Lotteries Distribution Board, DISSA was able to send teams to the Deaflympics (previously World Games) and Global Games for the intellectually impaired.

SA team triumph once again

The South African Paralympic team triumphed once again with 35 medals in Athens. Swimming superstar Natalie du Toit and running sensations Oscar Pistorius and Tebogo Mokalagadi stole the limelight. Swimmer Tadhg Slattery won medals in his fourth Paralympic Games in succession. And Zanele Situ was awarded the highest humanitarian award by the IPC for overcoming obstacles.

As a result of the restructuring of high-performance sport in South Africa, all of DISSA’s high-performance programmes and responsibilities for presenting South African teams will be assumed by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC).

S A Paralympic Team Credo

“Through its metamorphosis the butterfly epitomises nature’s ultimate miracle transforming into a creature of courage, strength and extreme beauty. In pursuit of the triumph of the human spirit, so too do disabled athletes emerge, thereby attaining their freedom.” A J Scott