After lighting up the Paralympics once again, when winning the men’s 200m T61 category, South Africa’s golden boy Ntando Mahlangu declared that dreams can indeed come true.

After an earlier success in the long jump, the 19-year-old becomes only the second South African to win at least two individual golds at a single Paralympics.

On Friday, 3 September, in Tokyo, the world record holder sprinted home ahead of Great Britain’s Richard Whitehead and Germany’s Ali Lacin.
“Two Paralympics gold medals was the dream coming here – a dream does come true in the end,” Mahlangu said.

“I came here not even expecting a medal in two events. This is one of my best races in this class – it was a beautiful night.”

Mahlangu’s sprint victory followed an extraordinary win in the long jump, a sport he only started to take seriously two months ago.

Born with under-developed lower limbs, the South African walked for the first time aged 10 after a double amputation allowed him to get prosthetics.

Just four years later, at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Mahlangu won silver in the T42 200m event to become the youngest South African to make an Olympic podium.

A revision of classification system by the International Paralympic Committee meant the teenager had to move to the T61 class, where he could only compete in the Long Jump and 200m.

Jump start
He is the world record holder in both events and his fist gold in Japan came in the long jump, even though he only started training for the event six weeks before the Games.

“Coming here, I had to trust in the process when we took the decision six weeks back (to compete in long jump),” he said.
His coach Neil Cornelius takes up the story.

“Two months ago, he realised he had qualified for the Long Jump, an event he had not really paid any attention to, then he decided to try this one time properly and see what happens,” Cornelius told BBC Sport.

“He called me up and said: ‘Coach, can you get me ready for the Paralympics in two months?’ I said ‘yeah, that is a bit of a challenge but let’s go for it’!”

“We had to spend time on the long jump techniques making sure he gets it right, and everything kicked fine. He got the technique, the approach and was unbelievably consistent.

“It is insane how quickly he learned how to get a gold medal jump.”

In bronze medal position before his last jump, Mahlangu produced a leap of 7.17m to claim gold.

“I only started to train six weeks back, so I am super excited for the future,” he said after his spectacular victory.

Mahlangu is the second South African ‘blade runner’ to win two individual gold medals at a single games after his predecessor Oscar Pistorius, who won three golds at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Pistorius has since made headlines for the wrong reasons, with the one-time hero now serving a 13-year jail term for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Refusing to dwell on what the future might bring, Mahlangu is happy to focus on the present instead.

“I am still celebrating my long jump medal, I am going to celebrate my 200m medal, so I think for now we can be humble and honoured for what we got and the result we have,” he explained.

Ntando Mahlangu went from not being able to walk to Paralympian in just four years.

“We never know when this dream can end with a lot of factors coming in, so we have to embrace it now. So, I am not thinking about next year. Right now, it is for me to go enjoy the work I have put in for five years – that is the most important thing.”

Cornelius, meanwhile, is in no doubt what the future holds for Mahlangu.

“He can do anything in the next 10 years,” he rallied. “I think he is going to stop his career as one of the best of all time, not just in the 200m and long jump.

“Ntando is such an overall excellent athlete. He has an amazing 100m time, incredible 400 and 800m times – I just see amazing things for this kid.” – bbc.com

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