ZVISHAVANE-BASED visually-impaired athlete Laina Sithole carries the country’s hopes for a medal at 2016 Paralympics Games, which are set to kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The 20-year-old female athlete will be competing at the Paralympics for the first time after missing on London 2012, despite meeting the qualifying times in Mozambique.
Disappointingly, Zimbabwe only managed to send one athlete, Sithole, along with the Para rowing team to the global Games, which are set to start on September 7 and end on September 18.
In an interview with Standardsport, Zimbabwe National Paralympic Committee (ZNPC) president Michael Bulagango said they believed Sithole was capable of bringing home a medal.
“We are expecting Laina Sithole to bring home a medal. Remember, she brought us a silver medal from the All-Africa Games in 2011 and another bronze last year from the same event, so she is definitely a medal hopeful for us,” he said.
“The only challenge is that we do not have money, as an association, to send her for regular international competitions so that she is exposed to high level competition before such a huge event. It would have been better for her to go to Rio knowing a number of athletes she will be competing against, but we just hope she will rise to the occasion.”
Sithole qualified for Rio through Bipartite Invitation and she will compete in Class T13 100m, but that classification will have a review after four years.
A five-member Para rowing team comprising Previous Wiri, Margaret Bangajena, Michelle Garnett, Takudzwa Gwariro and Jessica Davis will also be making a debut appearance at the Paralympics this week.
“It’s the first time to send a Para rowing team. We sent them to Italy for the qualifiers and they qualified, but we are not expecting much from them. We just want to see how they will fare and then push them for medals at Tokyo 2020,” Bulagango said.
He said ZNPC was already looking towards Tokyo 2020, having identified at least 30 athletes to benefit from a partnership with the National Paralympic Committee of Japan.
The Japanese will periodically send specialists to train local athletes and coaches from various disciplines.
Zimbabwe has not won a Paralympics medal for 12 years since amputee Elliot Mujaji scooped gold in a 100m dash at Athens in Greece, in 2004.
Mujaji had also won gold in Sydney (Australia) four years earlier.
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 and sitting volleyball, among many