By Mark Etheridge

Anruné Liebenberg annexed South Africa’s first gold medal of the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar on Monday.

The tiny Stellenbosch powerhouse, who won silver and bronze medals at the 2012 Paralympics in London, was a runaway winner in the women’s T47 400-metre final at the Qatar Sports Club.

And making it even more memorable for the former Gauteng athlete was that her winning time of 56.65 seconds was also a season’s best and equal personal best.

Paralympic veteran Hilton Langenhoven also got in on the action with a bronze medal in the men’s T12 400m final with a time of 50.85sec.

Liebenberg also got the better of long-time rival Unidis Castillo of Cuba, a Paralympic gold medallist. Castillo was left well in the wake of the South African as she clocked 59.79sec. Russia’s Alexandra Moguchava took bronze in 1:01.50.

Speaking to Road to Rio 2016 from the desert city, Liebenberg was over the moon with delight. ‘I was so excited because the 400m is my absolute favourite item and also that Yunidis, such an exceptional athlete, was also in the race.

‘There were also three new youngsters who were making their World Championships debut.’

And it was one of the youngsters who provided Liebenberg with a special moment in the lead-up to the race. ‘I saw the American girl, Amy Watt using the block that makes sure her amputated limb is the same length as her other arm in the starting blocks. It was a Pringle tennis ball holder attached to a wooden block.

‘That caused a memory flashback for me on my journey in disability sport… for my first competition at international level I used a Milo tin that was covered with an SA flag to make my shorter arm [which I call ‘Pietie’] the same length as my other arm.

‘And now here I am with a super cool carbon fibre prosthetic and specially made for me by Johan Snyders of Ice Express. That made me realise again how privileged I am to be part of this incredible thing that is disabled sport. It was truly a goosebump moment.’

‘I went to sleep tonight with a heart that is beating extra fast to be blessed to be able to live my life through God on the athletics track and realise that my talents come from above. And I’m also hugely excited about the week that lies ahead and to support my room-mate, Ilse Hayes who is running her 200m final on Tuesday.

‘To be part of the South-African team is an honour and privilege and singing the national anthem and hearing my fellow South Africans sing it louder than the anthem actually being being played… Wow, I tried not to cry but how can one not cry if you’ve just won gold for your country?’

South Africa’s current golden girl can also consider her triumph as an early birthday present… she turns 23 next Tuesday!

Langenhoven’s race was won by Portugal’s Luis Goncalves in 49.67 with China’s Qichao Sun second in 50.23.

Tuesday’s action sees Paralympian Chenelle van Zyl in the F35 shot put final and Jan van Staden in the F46 javelin final.

Also in action will be sprint duo Hayes, curent world T13 100m record holder, and Anika Pretorius. They both run in the T13 200m final.

And the final South African competing will be Commonwealth Games long jumper Juanelie Meijer, in the T38 long jump.

More good news for South Africa is that the gold and bronze brings their total to seven for the championships thus far and moves them up seven spots to 21st on the medals table.

Picture of Liebenberg and fellow medallists on the podium courtesy of Warren Little/Getty Images

SA’s trip to the IPC Athletics World Championships is made possible by sponsors Nedbank, SASOL, Sport and Recreation SA, the National Lottery Distribution Fund, 361º and SAA.

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