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[Johannesburg, 30 November 2015] South Africa has successfully hosted the 2015 World Championships for people with Down syndrome. The event incorporated the 3rd International Athletic Association for persons with Down syndrome (IAADS) World Athletics Championships and the 1st International Table Tennis Association for people with Down syndrome (ITTADS) World Table Tennis Championships and saw deserving winners take home medals and even break a few world records.

The World Championships for People with Down syndrome took place in Bloemfontein at the Dr. Petrus Molemela Stadium from 21 to 27 November, and set the stage for athletics and table tennis competitors from 10 countries across the world to meet and compete for international recognition in their respective categories. The event was hosted under the auspices of the South African Sports Association for the Intellectually Impaired (SASA-II) in partnership with Lulamisa, a community development organisation, and funded by the National Lottery, and played host to athletes from all over the world, including Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and Turkey.

According to Lizzie Vogel, SASA-II President, “Our athletes truly outperformed themselves this year, taking home a number of very well-deserved medals and also breaking an impressive number of world records,” adding, “In the athletics stream of the event in which nine countries competed, South Africa broke no fewer than five world records and took home 11 gold medals, 19 silver medals and 8 bronze medals, making it the leading scorer on the medal table for the event. Italy took home 18 gold, seven silver and two bronze medals, while Portugal won four gold, eight silver and 13 bronze medals.”

The table tennis stream saw five countries in competition with 12 bronze medals and one gold awarded across the board. The overall team positions from first to fifth were France, South Africa, Italy, Turkey and Portugal.

“South Africa had many highlights during the course of the event. Melanie Barnard, competing in the Trisome category, won three gold medals for discus, javelin and shot put and broke the world record in the latter with a winning distance of 7.08m,” remarks Vogel. “Hannes de Klerk, competing in the Mosaic category, won a gold medal for both discus and the 800m walk, for which his time was a world record of 5:45:42. Hannes also won a silver medal in the shot put,” she adds.

Furthermore, Leonard Baylie, competing in the Trisome category took home a gold medal for both javelin and shot put, as well as a silver medal for discus. He broke the world record for the shot put with a new distance of 10.53m. Breyton Mokae, competing in the Mosaic Boys division won gold in the 400m for which he broke the world record with a time of 77:64.

Trisome Boys athlete, Alex Taylor, won gold in the discus category and broke the world record with a distance of 29.73m. “Another special highlight for us was the relay Boys Trisome event. South Africa took home a gold medal in the 4 x 400m relay in a fantastic time of 5:30:08,” says Vogel.

Often times, sports events dedicated to intellectually impaired or differently-abled people are not afforded the exposure they need, nor are the athletes given the recognition they deserve for excellence in their respective fields. “But the South African media were so receptive to this event and the exposure it has provided to the athletes was absolutely phenomenal. With that, we hope that the event has created a launch pad for greater recognition and support for athletes with Down syndrome. It’s so important to acknowledge and support events such as this, because they provide an ideal opportunity to show South Africa and the world how our athletes prepare and train for events, how they compete and of course their many sterling achievements. We can’t thank our local media enough for coming to the table and doing just that.”

2015 marks the first year the World Championships was hosted not only in South Africa, but on the African continent. “South Africa was the only African country competing in the World Championships for people with Down syndrome and our athletes really outdid themselves,” remarks Vogel, concluding, “It’s a great privilege for all involved to have had a hand in making this event a reality. We are so proud of all the young men and women who took part. Their hard work and training really shone through and it was a privilege to host such dedicated athletes in this world-class event.”

The 2015 World Championships for people with Down syndrome, incorporating the 3rd IAADS World Athletics Championships & 1st ITTADS World Table Tennis Championships, have been made possible through the hard work and commitment of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), South African Sports Association for the Intellectually Impaired (SASA-II), International Athletic Association for Persons with Down Syndrome (IAADS) and the International Table Tennis Association for people with Down Syndrome (ITTADS).