Olympic Stories: Oscar Pistorius

The story of Oscar Pistorius is just so amazingly inspirational.  Here it is from the New York Times:

The New York Times

August 5, 2012

Pistorius Misses Chance at Final, but Remains Upbeat
LONDON — Just moments after finishing first in a semifinal of the Olympic 400 meters Sunday night, Kirani James of Grenada turned and looked for the man who finished last.

When James finally saw Oscar Pistorius, the South African who made history one day earlier by becoming the first double-amputee athlete to compete in track and field at the Olympics, he smiled and grabbed Pistorius in a warm embrace. Then the two runners exchanged racing bibs, the tiny placards that are pinned to the front of each runner’s singlet for identification.

Clearly, James knew the significance of what Pistorius had done. In many ways, it did not matter that Pistorius’s time of 46.54 seconds was nearly two seconds off the pace set by James and Chris Brown of the Bahamas, who claimed their race’s two automatic spots in the final. For Pistorius, known as Blade Runner because of his carbon-fiber prosthetics, there was meaning simply in making it this far.

“The whole experience is mind-blowing,” Pistorius said afterward. “My aim was to make the semifinal. It’s a dream come true.”

Pistorius is not done at the London Games. He will return to the track Thursday as part of South Africa’s 4×400 relay team. But after the emotional scene that followed his second-place finish in his preliminary heat, it was difficult not to at least fantasize about a situation in which he found a way to run for a medal in Monday’s final.

Certainly that is what many of the spectators were hoping to see as they shouted his name during Pistorius’s walk to the starting line. While his competitors stripped off their warm-up pants, Pistorius — who did not wear any — just hopped in place to stay warm. When the call came for the runners to take their marks, he slipped off his jacket and rolled his neck before settling into the blocks for what was surely the biggest race of his life.

“I’ve got to give him credit,” the Bahamian sprinter Demetrius Pinder said, “because I think he’s under more pressure than the rest of us.”

Pistorius, 25, has faced unusual challenges. Born without fibulas, he had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday, and he has battled for years to compete against able-bodied athletes. Four years ago, he qualified for the Beijing Games but was ruled ineligible by track’s world governing body because his blades were deemed to give him a competitive advantage.

That decision was struck down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the ruling came too late for Pistorius to compete in China. It appeared he had missed his chance to qualify for the 400 here, too, after he did not meet the South African Olympic Committee’s qualifying standard at several races leading up to the Games. But the committee announced last month that Pistorius was worthy of a spot on the team and would run both the 400 and the 4×400-meter relay.

Given his previous results, expectations were not high. But Pistorius stunned the track world Saturday when he made it through to the semifinals. Then came Sunday, a night already filled with drama.

Beyond Pistorius — and, of course, Usain Bolt’s dazzling defense of his 100-meter Olympic title — there was Olga Rypakova earning just the second track and field gold medal for Kazakhstan since the dissolution of the Soviet Union when she won the triple jump; Ezekiel Kemboi extending Kenya’s gold medal streak in the 3,000-meter steeplechase to 28 years with an 8-minute-18.56-second performance; Hungary’s Krisztian Pars dominating in the men’s hammer throw on the way to his first gold; and the American Sanya Richards-Ross winning the women’s 400 in 49.55 against a field that included the defending Olympic gold medalist, Christine Ohuruogu of Britain, and the 2011 world champion, Amantle Montsho of Botswana.

Still, Pistorius’s story could not be glossed over. Not for the fans and not for his competitors, either. James, who is the defending world champion in the 400, admires Pistorius’s passion.

“Oscar is someone special, especially in our event,” James said. “It’s a memorable moment for me to be out here performing with him.”

Despite being inspiring to many, Pistorius’s Olympic journey has not been without controversy. Opinions vary on Pistorius’s J-shaped blades, known as Cheetahs, with some believing the prosthetics give him an edge over his competition. One argument cited frequently is based on the opinion put forth by track’s world governing body in its earlier decision: that Pistorius has to expend less energy than other athletes while covering the same distances.

To others, the notion that an amputee would have an edge over runners who compete with their natural legs is absurd. Among the factors often mentioned by defenders of Pistorius is the manner in which he starts his races.

In Sunday’s semifinal, for example, Pistorius popped straight up off the starting blocks. It is a necessary maneuver, a consequence of his springy blades. But it is not ideal. The preferred method is to shoot out low, reducing wind resistance.

On Saturday, Pistorius was able to recover from his start. On Sunday, he could not do the same. Pistorius, who started in Lane 5, clearly trailed by the time the field reached the backstretch. As the runners turned for home, the only question was whether he would be able to hold off Venezuela’s Albert Bravo for seventh place. He could not.

When Pistorius crossed the finish line, however, James was waiting for him. Almost immediately the two men pulled at the bibs pinned on their shirts, making an exchange that seemed to make a statement about Pistorius’s place in the track world.

“He’s an inspiration to all of us,” James said. “He’s a down-to-earth guy and a great individual. I thought it was a nice gesture.”

Pistorius was touched. Just seconds after finishing last in a race he had dreamed about for years, Pistorius did not look disappointed. He was beaming.

“As soon as we crossed the line, we’re friends,” Pistorius said. “It’s what the Olympics is all about.”

Ken Belson contributed reporting.

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