[dc]Eight years and two days ago, Kevin Paul stood on the top step of the podium after the 100m breaststroke final at the Beijing Paralympics, just 17 years old, a neck weighed down by gold and a world record to call his own.[/dc]
Just after midnight on Thursday, he was standing on the podium again, having won South Africa’s first gold medal of the 2016 Games. His celebrations were a little wilder this time around, the work that had gone into them had been harder and his path to these Games more wisely chosen.
“Jumping on to the block in Beijing and I was a new kid, getting away with a gold medal there,” said Paul, who was born with Poland Syndrome, a birth defect that left him without pectoral muscles in his left chest. This, in turn, has made his left arm a little shorter than his right, for which he compensates by using his shoulder muscles more in his stroke.
“Obviously the times were a lot slower then. I was 17 and I came away with a gold, but I don’t think I knew what it really meant, until now. Eight years later, almost to the day, to come away with that gold medal now, I think I truly appreciate what it means and how much work goes into it.”
Paul’s world record time in 2008 was 1:08:58. He went nigh on four seconds quicker here last night, his 1:04.86 just 0.24 seconds ahead of Denys Dubrov of the Ukraine, with Dutchman Duncan van Haaren third. He had touched the wall second just behind Dubrov.
“I went 1:04:86. It’s not my personal best time. At world champs I managed to come away with a 1:04:5 there. Speaking to my coaches in the build-up to this, it was never about a time. It was about getting in that pool, finishing first at the 100m and taking that Paralympic medal home. I can jump into a pool next week and do a faster time, but it’s not going to give me that gold medal.”
“My coaches always tell me it’s not who touches first at the 50, it’s about who touches first once the race was over. We always knew we wanted to go out comfortable, go out steady. If there is anyone else who goes out a little harder, be comfortable in your process. You can’t control the other guy’s training and his racing. It all comes down to how we prepared. And it all paid off.”
Team SA had a slippery start in the early sessions on the opening day of competition with two athletes progressing and two facing elimination in the early session but it was Paul who had the last laugh despite narrowly missing out on the world record.
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