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Dubai 2019: Anrune Weyers takes South Africa’s first gold

DUBAI: South Africa’s first gold medal at the Dubai 2019 World Championships came through a familiar face with a different name. 

Anrune Weyers won the women’s 400m T47 with a championship record (55.79), something that not even the 27-year-old sprinter expected to achieve. 

“Last year was really tough because of injuries. It has been a miracle to run here, because I just had six weeks of training [after a surgery] so this is has been amazing. I’m really thankful to be injury free and run,” Weyers said.  

It was her second world title. Four years after the first one in Doha. 

Back then, the name of the gold medallist on the screen was Anrune Liebenberg. But the South African said she decided to use her husband’s surname because of the unconditional support she feels from her partner.   

“I am proud to have Weyers on my name now because it’s kind of a part of him with me in athletics. He’s the person who is always me.”

China’s Lu Li took silver (58.61) and Lisbeli Vera of Venezuela, bronze (58.98).

Great Britain’s Aled Davies also had a lot to celebrate with his family. His fourth world shot put title was followed by a very special fan, his seven-week old daughter Phoebe.

“This was the toughest one yet [world title]. Me and my coach [Ryan Spencer-Jones] knew things haven’t been clicking, they haven’t been coming together and this was the hardest competition of my life,” Davies said, with Phoebe in his arms.

On being a world champion father, he said:

“It’s the only motivation you need. I don’t do this for me now – I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to achieve. Golds at every tournament and world records, so if I can keep on dominating as long as possible and show that beautiful little girl how it is done then that’s great.”

Luxembourg’s Tom Habscheid finished in second place (15.10) and Iran’s Sajad Mohammadian in third (14.39).

Davies’ was Great Britain’s second gold in the evening session. The first came with Marie Lyle in the women’s 100m T35.

Three new world records

Three new world records were set in an evening session of mild temperatures in Dubai following a rainy afternoon. 

James Turner of Australia broke the men’s 100m T36 world record in 11.72. 

“I was always planning to be head [of the race], everybody is. I’m now thinking about the 400m and there is a lot of hard work to do. This is a really good preparation for me, this is a really good test event for me before Tokyo [2020 Paralympics].”

China’s Yifei Yang took silver (11.79) and Malaysia’s former world record holder Mohamad Puzi, bronze (11.97). 

China’s Xiaoyan Wen smashed the women’s long jump T37 (5.22) ahead of USA’s Jaleen Roberts (4.81) and Poland’s Marta Piotrowska (4.45). 

The third world record set on Sunday evening meant Jordan’s first gold at Dubai 2019. Ahmad Hindi bettered his own mark with 12.17 meters. Iran’s Mehran Nikoeimajd won silver (11.41) and Mauricio Valencia of Colombia took the bronze medal (11.35). 

China remain on top of the medals table with nine golds followed by Brazil with six. Thalita Simplicio in the women’s 400m T11 (56.85) and Daniel Martins’ third world title in the men’s 400m T20 (47.62) bagged the Brazilian golds on Sunday.

First golds for Kuwait and Serbia

After finishing third in the 400m T13, Paralympic champion Leilia Adzhametova got her revenge in the women’s 100m T13 giving Ukraine their fifth world title at Dubai 2019.

Wheelchair racer Walid Ktila grabbed his second victory in Dubai and Tunisia’s third gold medal in the men’s 100m T34. 

For Germany and India, Sunday brought the second gold. Indian thrower Sundar Gurjar’s won the men’s javelin F46 (61.22) while German jumper Leon Schaefer dominated the men’s long jump T63 (6.90).

South Africa was not the only country to top the podium for first time on Sunday. Ahmad Almutairi was received with drums beating by Kuwait fans following his victory in the men’s 100m T33 (17.08).

Zeljko Dimitrijevic gave Serbia their first win at Dubai 2019 in the men’s club throw F51 (33.82). 

All medallists, records and results from the World Para Athletics Championships can be found on the Dubai 2019 microsite.

Competition resumes on Monday and you can follow live on World Para Athletics websiteFacebook and Twitter pages.

Anrune Weyers fights for para-athlete recognition

Outside of the few sunny, glorious days of the Paralympic Games and the World Para Athletics championships, South Africa’s disabled athletes are barely noticed.

The few such athletes who have climbed previously impossible heights and raised the national flag on the global stage have entered their names into sporting folklore but not necessarily the hearts of ordinary South Africans and the minds of influential sponsors. It’s an injustice that reflects the many obstacles placed in the way of most disabled people in South Africa.

Winning world titles and breaking records is meant to change fortunes and open doors, but it does no such thing for disabled athletes.

When Anrune Weyers returned from the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai with gold, silver and bronze for the 400m, 200m and 100m respectively in the T47 category for athletes whose primary impairments are in the upper limbs, there were no riches thrown at her fast feet, no throngs of frenzied fans lining the streets. And though money is no motivation for athletes like Weyers, she still shivers from the cold shoulder para-athletes are given by sponsors and administrators.

“We have a big struggle in terms of support for para-athletes. When I came back from the world champs in Dubai, the question was asked quite a lot. And I’ll be honest, we’re not all equal in this country and that’s sad, because we’re raising South Africa’s flag high and we’re making the country proud,” says Weyers.

The 27-year-old Stellenbosch resident was born with a congenital defect in her left arm and turned to athletics as a way to fight her own insecurities growing up in a world where “imperfections” are frowned upon.

“Growing up with a disability, it was a little difficult to know my place in the world. That was a big challenge for me. I’m a female, and in the world we live in we’re always looking for this perfect idea of how someone must look, and I struggle with that image that the world created,” she says.

Not being defined by labels

Weyers’ passion for athletics was spotted early. The sport changed the trajectory of her life and she is fully appreciative of that fact.

“In primary school, I had a really great teacher. She inspired me to show people that there’s more than just a box that people put us in, and we’re all accepted the way we are. That placed faith and hope in my heart on the day I heard it from her. Athletics gave me confidence. Every time I did it, I felt as if I’m turning into someone I want to be. And obviously I was good at it and that helped me say, ‘You know what, I’m different. I need to accept it and I need to live it and I need to use the gift that God has given me – and that’s to run.’ That’s where it all started.”

South Africa’s disability prevalence is at 7.5% of the population. The national disability grant ranges between R1 695 and R1 780 a month. Disabilities are more prevalent in females than males (8.3% and 6.5%). Besides pursuing personal milestones, the added expectations thrust upon para-athletes means they become the voice of disabled people by default. It’s a responsibility Weyers doesn’t take lightly.

Anrune Weyers Leads South Africa’s Medals Rush in Dubai with Gold, Silver and Bronze

There were 11 medals won in Dubai, two of them gold, with three silvers and six bronzes. Anrune Weyers was the show-stopper from a Team SA perspective, bagging a full house of gold, silver and bronze.

Weyers (nee Liebenberg) already has two Paralympic Games under her belt: London 2012 and Rio 2016. At both those Games she won 400-metre silver in the T47 classification (an upper-limb deficiency) after being born with a congenital defect to her left arm.

Now, at the World Para Athletics Championships the sprinter won gold in the 400m (T47), silver in the 200m (T47) and bronze in the 100m (also T47).

The former Kempton Park athlete lives in Stellenbosch where’s she’s trained by long-time Paralympic coach Suzanne Ferreira and the 27-year-old continues to juggle married life with teaching and training. She’s a teacher at the I-Learn Developmental Centre in Durbanville in Cape Town, a school for special-needs children.

Weyers had started the medals rush in Dubai by winning Team SA’s first medal, that gold in the 400m (T47) in a championship-record time of 55.79 seconds. It was her second world title, after winning the event in Doha in 2015.

Back then, the name of the gold medallist on the screen was Anrune Liebenberg. But she decided to use her husband’s surname because of the unconditional support she feels from her partner. ‘I am proud to have Weyers on my name now because it’s kind of a part of him with me in athletics. He’s the person who is always me.’

Team SA’s other gold medallist was the incredibly talented 17-year-old Ntando Mahlangu, who won the men’s 100m (T61) title in 23.23 seconds, ahead of Great Britain’s Paralympic hero Richard Whitehead.

On Facebook, Mahlangu wrote: ‘An honour to stand tall beside Richard Whitehead and Ali Lacin after last night’s T61 200m final. Thank you Mr Whitehead for always supporting my journey and inspiring me to dream big!’

After the race, Mahlangu told reporters: ‘I didn’t know that I would be first. I was a little bit nervous, I just tried to concentrate on myself and on what I wanted to do. I like when the competition is hard and I’m really grateful for the win.’

Mahlangu was confined to a wheelchair since birth until he was at least 10. He suffered from hemimelia, a condition which resulted in his legs never developing fully beneath the knees. In 2012 the decision was made to amputate both his legs at the knee.

I still have this gift, so I am not done yet: South African star Anrune Weyers

Two-time Paralympian and World Champion from South Africa Anrune Weyers is more ready than ever to take on Tokyo. She will be running armed with her faith and a special mission to raise awareness about the plight of Para athletes in her country.

After her multiple victories in the 2019 Dubai World Championships, Weyers was ready to round up her professional career at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, retire and start a family.

“It was to be my last Games. I didn’t voice it to media, but praying about it and having the time [of being] at home, just made me realise that I’m still super excited to run, I still have the fire. I still have this gift so I’m not done yet.”

Tokyo 2020 will be her third Paralympic Games, and even if there is one more year wait, Weyers knows in her heart that the Games will be as special.

“I came to realise that [the postponement] is not about me. It’s so much more. It’s people’s lives. But knowing that I can be part of something that is going to be magical next year – the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be amazing,” she told Tokyo 2020.

So will it be her last Games?

“We will see what life gives after the Games. I am going to take it day by day,” the 27-year-old athlete said.

A Paralympian at heart

Weyers was born with a congenital defect in her left arm, and was picked on.

“I was bullied quite a lot for not having a hand. I was the ‘girl-with-no-hand’. But running helped me to develop the person I was, the character that I was, and I think that was God’s plan for me as a person.”

Realising that running is her life’s purpose, she took up athletics seriously in 2010 and in just a span of two years, the then 19-year-old athlete made her debut at the biggest sporting event of the world, the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The young Weyers gave a stellar performance in London, coming away with a silver and a bronze. But apart from the medals, the runner will always remember London 2012 not just for being her first Games but for what it stood for.

“I couldn’t believe that there are so many different disabilities. It made me excited to know that I’m privileged to be a part of that. It’s actually empowering [athletes] to be the best they can be.”

The Games attracted more than 4,237 athletes from 160 countries and was dubbed then as the “greatest Paralympic Games ever” – setting a benchmark for future Games.

Crisis and faith

In her second appearance at the Games, it was altogether a different experience. Weyers had two knee operations prior to Rio 2016 and had to summon all her power in the final metres of the 400m. Earlier, she was leading the pack but struggled to maintain her momentum.

Eventually, Li Lu from China zoomed past her and won the coveted gold medal.

“That race kind of broke me. It was really tough, and I could see my competitor from China and she passed me, and I couldn’t move.”

“But then it came back to me. All I ask God was just to race and I must celebrate this for what it is.”

Weyers Ready to Fulfill Her Dreams at the Tokyo Games

Two-time Paralympian and World Champion Anrune Weyers is a double-finalist at the Momentum gsport15 Awards and she’s eager to get to know more women in sport so as to inspire and empower one another.

Weyers features in the Athlete with Disability category alongside powerhouses: wheelchair tri-athlete Catherine van Staden and South Africa’s wheelchair tennis ace, Kgothatso Montjane. She is up against Springboks Women’s skipper Babalwa Latsha and women’s singles national surf-ski Hayley Nixon in the highly contested Momentum Athlete of the Year category.

The 27 year old, who was born with a congenital defect in her left arm, says more can be done for para-athletes in South Africa and globally. After being bullied as a child for being different, Weyers says running has given her confidence.

She most recently (2019) won three medals at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, including a historic gold medal for Team South Africa in the 400m T47. That sensational performance earned her a place at the now postponed Tokyo Olympics.

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic that has seen all sport come to a halt the world over, Weyers has had to come to terms with the postponement of what would’ve been her third Paralympic Games. Weyers is looking to soon retire and start a family with her husband. Will she come back next year for the Games?  Lonwabo Nkohla finds out.

Congratulations!!! A finalist in two categories, what was your reaction when you saw that you were a double finalist?

Thank you so much. I was overwhelmed and very grateful that I have the privilege to be a finalist in two categories. Last year, 2019, was an incredible year on the sporting field and I feel honoured that I have the opportunity to make Paralympic sport and women sport grow and to be acknowledged in South Africa for my performances that I had on the track. I also say it’s not always just about the performances but it’s about the impact that you can have afterwards and the platform that you can use to inspire people and to use all the opportunities that come my way in a positive way.

You’ve represented the country on very big stages, receiving the most coveted medals. How does it feel to be recognised by other women, on a platform for women?

“It’s an honour and a privilege to represent your country, it’s a dream of mine since I was young. I always say put it on a paper, work towards it, make sure you have self-discipline, commit to it and have passion and you use the gift you’ve been given.” – Anrune Weyers.

It’s an honour and a privilege to represent your country, it’s a dream of mine since I was young. I always say put it on a paper, work towards it, make sure you have self-discipline, commit to it and have passion and you use the gift you’ve been given. I believe my gift that GOD gave me is running. I am privileged to use it to glorify his name. All those medals are because it’s all his glory that he supported me all the way, we are a team together. There have been challenging times, there were times when I had injuries, there were times I felt I can’t do it but at the end of the day the most valuable thing is not always the medal but the journey towards that.

It’s all about that four year cycle, that moment, when you and your group, family, friends, your coach and gym trainer, everybody involved in making sure that you are ready for that one race. It’s that journey that’s more valuable for me. It’s that moment when we laugh on the track, the moments where we can high five each other and hug each other when you ran an incredible race. That moment when you don’t understand how you finished a training session but you did it. The moment where your coach pushes you to be the best athlete version of yourself that you can be. It’s that moment when you finish that line and you have incredible goosebumps on your body and you have your family and friends celebrating with you and your team. That’s something that’s magical.

Being a women in sport – we are not equal to men and I think gsport is providing a platform for us, but I also think the world is changing the perspective of how we look at sport, on and off the pitch. It’s great to be part of a lot of women and learn about different sporting codes and learning stories of different people, following them on Instagram and Facebook and see what they’re doing in their lives and their sporting careers. I’m grateful to be a finalist because I’m able to reach out to other women and finding out what their stories are and celebrating victories together in different sporting codes. That’s really special.

There’s no doubt growing up with a disability brought about its challenges, how have you navigated them?

Growing up with a disability has been really tough. I was bullied quiet a lot for being different, for not having a hand. I had so many insecurities about my freckles, my cool hair and fair skin, there were so many challenges for me to overcome but running helped me gain self-confidence. Running filled my heart, it made me realise that we are all different and unique. We have to use the plan that God has for us. Running has helped me overcome all the challenges that come with being disabled.

In the times we live in, we are more open and more people ask “what happened to you” in a decent way, which I respect and love. That’s what we need, we need to be more curious about things in a passionate and in a beautiful way. When I was young, people staring at me was really difficult. People shouldn’t be judged for their disability, they should be seen as who they really are. Not having a hand has opened so many doors for me, it helped me create a platform for people that have different insecurities to stand up and be proud of who they are.

You’ve spoken about your dissatisfaction in the lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa. What would you like to see change?

“There’s definitely lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa and in the world. Me voicing my dissatisfaction is not to say that I want us to be equal to the Olympics, I just think that we are not valued.” – Weyers on lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa.

There’s definitely lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa and in the world. Me voicing my dissatisfaction is not to say that I want us to be equal to the Olympics, I just think that we are not valued. A lot of people think it’s easy to be a para-athlete, you just train for 2 weeks and just go, but it’s not that easy, we are professional athletes, we train and prepare the same way. Sometimes we need to adapt and find different ways to do a lot of movements because of our disability.

What I’d love to see is for us to be valued for what we bring on and off the track. We need to get support in terms of brands and sponsorships, that’s one of our biggest struggles. Another disadvantage for us para-athletes is that we have more needs, like equipment and all and all of that is expensive.

I’m not saying I just want to get free clothes and want people to give me money. I want to help them invest in their brand as well and build their brand. We want to help brands achieve their dream, while they help us achieve our dreams. It’s team work.

Tokyo 2021 will be your third Paralympic Games, how did the postponement affect your training and preparations?

This year has been really tough. When we found out about it, I constantly reminded myself that this is not only affecting me but it’s affecting everybody. Yes it would’ve been my third Paralympic Games, the postponement does affect us a lot in our preparation but we will take it day by day and work with what we have. My home has become my gym, the track is the road or grass field. Hopefully things can change soon so that we can go back to training as we normally do.

You’ve hinted that this could be your last games, are you still planning to retire and why?

The reason for my retirement is because we want to start a family but I believe that my fire is still burning for athletics and while I still have this gift, platform and health, I will go and fulfil that dream. I will see how things will go. It was a big decision to decide to still continue, an emotional one because my mind was set on 2020 Paralympics being my last games but I still have a big passion so I’m excited to still run and go for it.

What message do you have for fellow women in sport in the country and the young ones that will come after you?

Set those goals, be realistic, write those goals down, put it in the cupboard with a picture on it, the time and place or the race you want to do on the sporting field. Work hard, commit to it and  remember to love what you do. If you start losing that passion in the sporting field, try and ask yourself why you’re doing it and why you feel that way. If you know why you’re doing it, all the sacrifices will be worth it. Remember that you are beautiful, unique and radiant, you are worthy and loved.