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Sunday, 4 August, 2002, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK

Du Toit voted top athlete

One-legged South African swimmer Natalie du Toit has been named the outstanding athlete of the Commonwealth Games.

The 18-year-old from Cape Town won golds in the 50m and 100m disabled freestyle swimming events, breaking two world records on the way.

And in a Games first, she also made the final of the able-bodied 800m swimming event where she swam a personal best of 9min 13.57sec.

Du Toit competed as a highly-promising 14-year-old at the last Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur four years ago.

But her life was tragically altered in February of last year when she lost her left leg at the knee in a motorbike accident.

She was back in the pool by May, before she had even relearned to walk and made the Commonwealth Games a distant target.

"Natalie is a truly remarkable individual who deserves our full admiration," said Mike Fennell, Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

"Her achievements in Manchester reflect her determination in life - to overcome adversity and in the process inspire others including her South African team-mates."

All 72 competing nations and territories nominated one athlete for the award with the winner chosen by a panel consisting of the six Commonwealth regions.

"I always imagine myself to be the same person as before the accident"
Natalie Du Toit

The panel decision in favour of Du Toit was unanimous.

Du Toit said in Manchester she is not sure what her swimming future holds.

She has been impressed by the integration of the disability events into the schedule, with the medals counting in the official table.

Du Toit must now decide whether to pursue disability swimming or keep pushing to compete with her able-bodied team-mates.

"I always imagine myself to be the same person as before the accident," she said.

"I would love to have my leg back, but you have to get used to it not being there. I had it for 17 years of my life, but I have to get on with it."

Du Toit was introduced to the Queen as part of a special athletes' welcoming party prior to Sunday evening's closing ceremony.


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