Some Olympians seem almost mythical in their impossible-to-fathom levels of endurance and physicality. Others, like double-amputee Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, serve as an inspiration because they’ve taken what seems like a disadvantage and used it to transcend the limitations of the human body itself.
“I’ve been, since 2005, working on my times,” explained the sprinter, dubbed “the fastest man with no legs,” who holds the world record for sport class T44 in several events. “I tried to qualify for the ’08 Olympics and missed it by a quarter of a second, which was extremely frustrating at the time. And that opportunity [gave me a taste], I really don’t want to let it go and slip between my fingers again.”
Born in Johannesburg, Pistorius was 11 months old when he was diagnosed with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs and had them amputated halfway between his knees and ankles. Undeterred in his athletic determination, he grew up playing rugby, water polo, tennis and wrestling; in 2004, after an injury, he was introduced to running and fell in love, soon competing in both Paralympic and able-bodied events. Later this month, he will become the first double amputee runner in the history of the Olympic games.
“The Olympics is going to be a phenomenal experience,” he said in a recent interview. “I’ve been running the 100, the 200, the 400 and the 4-by-400 meter relay for the first time.”
As part of his road to London, Pistorius participated in the South African team for the World Championships in Daegu, winning a silver medal.
“Daegu was a phenomenal experience… that I really think I needed for London’s games this year. I’d never participated before 2011 in a multi-international 400-meter event,” he explained. “So it was very stressful in a way, to go through all the rounds to get to a semi-final was quite tough. To stay focused is another thing; physically, you’re always prepared for a race like that, I was prepared, but getting there and being mentally prepared is completely different. So I think my lack of experience definitely showed in the competition.”
Now, wielding the thin metal prosthetic limbs that have earned him the nickname “The Blade Runner,” Pistorius is ready to compete. “The challenge of doing both the Olympic and Paralympic games is tremendous,” he explained of navigating between the two worlds. “Being able to stay on peak and qualify a month or two months out before the Olympics, and still maintain a high level of competition for the Paralympics is going to be very demanding.”
Win or lose, the 25-year-old South African says he can’t wait to see all the excitement surrounding the games. “Coming from a country where we’ve hosted the rugby world cup, the football world cup and the cricket world cup, I’ve seen firsthand how huge a sporting event can be for a country, how it can bring everyone together,” he said. “I’ve competed quite a bit in the UK and in London, and I’ve seen the excitement that there’s been for sports. I think nobody is fully aware of how amazing the Olympics and the Paralympics are going to be in London.”