Oscar Pistorius inspires at the Olympics - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Oscar Pistorius inspires at the Olympics

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Posted: Saturday, August 4, 2012 5:15 pm

LONDON -- An hour before the race, William Swift made his way to his seat. He would not miss this, not in a million years.

Seven years ago, Swift, 31, was in a motorcycle accident. He lost his right leg from the hip down. Now he was going to watch something he never could have imagined, a double amputee run against the best in the world in the Olympics Games.

"I'll be cheering louder than anyone else," said Swift.

Which was saying something, as it turned out. The cheering began as soon as Oscar Pistorius was introduced.

"This is the Blade Runner!" said the public address guy, to a round of applause.

Pistorius got down the blocks.

The gun went off.

And then these Games made history, again.

A man with carbon blades for feet began to tear around the track. The wave of applause grew into a roar.

"It was an inspiration," said Luguelin Santos, the Dominican racing against Pistorius in another lane.

"He motivates all of us," said the American 400 runner, Bryshon Nellum.

"It blew my mind," said Pistorius. "My cheeks are cramping from smiling so much."

Pistorius finished second in his heat, with a time of 45.44, good enough to advance to today's semifinals. The guy is a great human interest story, but he is not just a human interest story. His best time would have put him 5th in the 400 in Beijing.

And this is where it gets complicated, isn't it? It's one thing to be inspired by a disabled athlete who's bringing up the rear. It's another when you're eating his carbon dust.

What if the Pistorius's prosthetics give him an advantage over other athletes? What if he starts to actually win?

"Then try harder," said Swift. "I think it's sour grapes."

It's the perfect answer, even if it's incomplete. There are legitimate competitive issues at stake. Marathoners in wheelchairs are faster than marathoners who run. A competition has to be fundamentally fair.

So this isn't a philosophical question as much as a scientific question: Do Pistorius's carbon legs give him an edge?

In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations said they did. Later that year, a panel of arbitrators overruled that decision. If you have an objection, take it up with them.

In the meantime, it's impossible not to be moved by Pistorius, and to be moved by the way other people are moved.

The kid was born with no fibulas. His legs were amputated at 11 months. Can you imagine growing up as the boy with no legs?

"It's crazy," said Bryshon Nellum, who then related his own story, about getting shot in both legs during a drive-by when he was 19.

"For him to be out here running is unbelievable," he said. "I was just like, 'Wow.' That's all I could say. 'Wow. Just wow.'"

But it's not people like Nellum who find the deepest meaning in Pistorius's story. It's people like Swift and Alan Stone. Stone, 50, suffers from MS. He sat in the wheelchair section at Olympic Park, watching Pistorius run.

"It's trying to put your trousers on," he said, talking about his daily challenges. "It's brushing your teeth. The hundred meters is a lovely aspiration, but if you set the bar that high, then it makes things like brushing your teeth that much easier."

The beautiful part is that Pistorius understands all this. He knows he is not just running for himself. In a press conference earlier in the week, he talked about his mother, Sheila, who died when he was just 15.

He talked about the way she raised him through his disability. He talked about her firm reaction, when he used to whine.

She'd say: "Oscar, you put on your prosthetic legs, and that's the last I want to hear about."

Pistorius laughed.

"I didn't grow up thinking I had a disability," he said. "I grew up thinking I had different shoes."

Now those shoes had carried him to London, and around an Olympic track. His thoughts went to back to his mother, who would be impossibly proud.

"She always said a loser isn't a person who gets involved and comes last, but a person who doesn't get involved in the first place," he said.

Geoff Calkins, columnist for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., is part of the Scripps team covering the London Olympics.

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