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Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 11:06 UK

Ten to watch: Natalie du Toit

Du Toit montage

By Matthew Davis

When this South African swimmer's name is mentioned during coverage in Beijing, expect to hear the phrase "true Olympic spirit" following close behind.

One of the most successful disabled athletes of all time, Natalie Du Toit was already a promising swimmer when she lost her leg in a motorcyle accident in 2001, aged just 17.

But the 24-year-old student from Cape Town achieved an inspirational dream this Summer when she became the first athlete to qualify for both the Paralympic, and the Olympic Games.

She is stubborn, which is good and bad. Good for the swimming, but bad for the coach

Coach Kololy Von Toros

She will line up for the marathon 10km open water event on 20 August - and when she does she says she won't "even think of one leg, two legs".

"When you are racing in an able-bodied competition, your're all equal and you go out there and try your best, and that's what counts."

FACTS & STATS

Born: 29 January 1984
Trains: Cape Town
Career highlights: Qualifying for Beijing Olympics, winning five Paralympic gold medals in 2004

PATH TO THE PODIUM

2008 form: Du Toit qualified for the Olympics in May when she finished fourth in the 10-kilometre race at the open water world championships - in a time of 2 hours, 2 minutes 7.8 seconds, just 5.1 seconds behind winner.

Natalie du Toit
The open water event is more strategic than anything in the pool

She became the first amputee to race in the finals of a major able-bodied swimming competition when she made the final of the 800m freestyle at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. While she missed out on qualification for Athens 2004, she did win five gold medals and a silver in that year's Paralympic Games.

Du Toit also won gold when competing against able-bodied swimmers in the 1,500m freestyle at the All Africa Games in Algiers in 2007.

Rivals: Russia's Larisa Ilchenko, 19, won the 10k at the open water world championships and is the woman to beat. But another swimming sensation, 16-year-old US star Chloe Sutton, is rapidly improving. She won the 10km gold in the Pan American Games in 2007.

How could she win: Some would say she already has, but Du Toit would likely disagree in the strongest terms. The open water event is a gruelling physical challenge, aggressive at close quarters and a discipline which suits Du Toit's feisty and determined character. More strategic than any race in the pool and often compared with competitive cycling and marathon running, the open water event is all about pace, positioning and placement over the draining course - something that will suit those with an old head on young shoulders.

Du Toit says her lack of leg power means she has to stay in the bunch until nearer the end of the race, then rely on her mental strength to move through the tiring field.

What she says: "Going out there in the water, it feels as if there's nothing wrong with me. I go out there and train as hard as anybody else. I have the same dreams, the same goals. It doesn't matter if you look different. You're still the same as everybody else because you have the same dream."

What they say: "She is stubborn, which is good and bad," her coach, Karoly Von Toros, said. "Good for the swimming, but bad for the coach."

Sporting high: Qualifying for the Olympics was a dream accomplished. But she isn't resting on her laurels. After Beijing the next goal is qualifying for London. "It never stops," she says.

Sporting low: At 16, she nearly qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in three events. Just a year later she lost her leg in the motorcycle accident.

In action: The 10km open water event makes it debut in Beijing on 20 August at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park.

AWAY FROM SWIMMING

Life outside sport: With a story like hers, it comes as no surprise that Du Toit is in big demand as a motivational speaker. Most of the rest of her free time is taken up by her studies - she is majoring in genetics and physiology at the University of Cape Town. No prizes for guessing her favourite colour either - yellow (or should that be gold?).

Most likely to: Be hailed as an example of the true Olympic spirit; add to her tally of golds at the Paralympic Games.

Least likely to: Complain about a bit of light bruising and water in her goggles when the elbows start flying in the open water marathon.

Did you know? George Eyser, an American gymnast, was the first amputee to compete at the Summer Olympics. He earned six medals in the 1904 Games, including three gold, despite sporting a wooden leg.





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see also
Du Toit to make history at Games
13 Jun 08 |  Swimming
Du Toit claims second gold medal
19 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Du Toit claims Commonwealth glory
17 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Open water warrior
12 Jun 07 |  Swimming
Team GB for Beijing
21 Jul 08 |  Team GB


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