Former gold medallist Sapiro is Rio-bound

  • Ilan
The irrepressible Shireen Sapiro will be competing in her third Paralympic Games when she travels to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in September.
by ILAN HERRMANN | Jul 27, 2016

In 2004, Sapiro was seriously injured in a waterskiing accident which resulted in her left leg being paralysed. She fought her way back to competitive swimming as a “para athlete” and made the national squad.

In 2008 Sapiro competed in the Beijing Olympics and won gold in the 100m backstroke. In London four years later she took bronze in the 100 metre backstroke; 100m freestyle; and 50m freestyle.

It all seemed over for Sapiro soon after London when she developed a shoulder injury and had to have repeat surgery, which led to an 18-month layoff and healing process. It was only a year and a half ago that she finally got back in the water: “I could barely swim a kilometre,” she recalls. 

But with blood, sweat and tears, Sapiro has fought her way back to reach the competitive lap times that she was doing four years ago.

The trials were held in April and 10 swimmers qualified with good enough times for Olympic selection. There were only six berths, however, which meant four athletes would have to be dropped. 

“It’s heart breaking to see some of my friends in the swimming fraternity having to be sidelined due to quota,” Sapiro says.

She found out she made the cut last week: “It’s surreal. I feel like pinching myself, to make sure it’s actually happening! After the struggle of the last few years, it’s just incredible and the result has surpassed my expectations. It’s also very humbling to be here, to be given this opportunity again.”

South Africa will field a strong side in the Paralympic swimming division. Of the six swimmers four are Olympic medallists. 

At the 2009 Maccabiah, Sapiro was flag bearer for the South African delegation at the opening ceremony. While she generally competes in Paralympic events, she competed in the open competition of the swimming events against able-bodied swimmers at the Maccabia.

Sapiro admits that at 25 it’s her last Olympics and she will “hang up her swimsuit” after this tournament. As a veteran of the Olympics she goes into this one confident, focused and ambitious. “I don’t want to come home empty handed.”

The Rio Paralympic Games take place after the main Olympics - from September 7-18.



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