THE success-starved Zimbabwe National Paralympic Committee (ZNPC) has stepped up efforts to increase the number of athletes that will represent the country at the Rio Paralympic Games by opening the door to all athletes who feel they have what it takes to compete at the international stage.
With just two athletes — Laina Sithole and Shepherd Gumede — having qualified for the summer global games set for September 7-18 2016, there remains one realistic opportunity for ZNPC to increase its Team Zimbabwe numbers.
“We are looking to have more athletes qualify for the paralympic games. We have approached Zimbabwe Tertiary Institutions Sports Union to see if they have athletes we can look at and we are inviting everyone in Zimbabwe who feels they have what it takes to make it to the games to come forward,” ZNPC secretary general Lewis Garaba told Standardsport.
“It’s an opportunity for all gifted physically-challenged athletes out there because there is only one International Paralympic Committee qualifier for African athletes which will be staged in Tunisia end of March. It’s also an opportunity for our qualified athletes to see their times and rate themselves ahead of the Paralympics,” he added.
It has been 12 years since Zimbabwe last won a Paralympics medal. This was in 2004 when amputee Elliot Mujaji scooped gold in a 100m dash at Athens. He had also won another gold in Sydney four years earlier.
The country’s delegation at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics consisted of two track and field athletes — Mujaji who failed to replicate the form of two previous events and Molene Muza.
At London 2012, wheelchair tennis player, Nyasha Mharakurwa joined Mujaji at the quadrennial sporting showcase and the two-man team came home empty-handed.
With Mujaji having hung up his Paralympian spikes, it has become increasingly difficult to envisage Zimbabwe producing another Paralympic star, but Garaba is optimistic.
“We have been starved of medals in the last couple of years but the young athletes we have this time around are fired up and they could do something special at Rio this year. We have encouraged them to aim higher than just silver and bronze, but to gun for gold,” he said.
The first Paralympic camp was held in December at the National Sports Stadium B Arena consisting of 13 athletes, including Sithole and Gumede and 11 other hopefuls. The number has since been reduced to eight.
Garaba, however, lamented the lack of financial resources to ensure the Paralympics team had adequate preparations.
“We had our first camp last year after receiving support from Adidos Foundation and we hope to have those camps once a month. The problem is hiring the National Sports Stadium arena, which is extremely expensive at $300 per day.
“We are appealing for assistance from all stakeholders to ensure that our athletes adequately prepare for the games. We want to make sure we send athletes who are up to standard and who can compete at that stage,” he said.
The Rio Paralympic Games is a major international multi-sport event, involving athletes with a range of physical disabilities, including impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment and intellectual impairment.
Rio 2016 will see athletes compete in 23 sporting disciplines, including athletes, archery, boccia, equestrian, 7-a-side football, judo, rowing, road cycling, swimming, triathlon, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby, sitting volleyball, among many others.