Oscar Pistorius: The Fastest Man On No Legs
Photo from Elvar at via Flickr
ON 22ND NOVEMBER 1986, Oscar Pistorius was born to Henke and Sheila Pistorius. This would have been a fairly ordinary affair except that Oscar Pistorius was born with a rare deformity of the legs - his feet contains only two toes, the heel bone and a bone to connect the toes and the heel together.
Henke and Sheila Pistorius made the heartwrenching decision to amputate Oscar's legs below the knee.
The surgeon would attach his heel bones to his knees so that they would form stumps for Oscar to move around.
It would not be surprising if Oscar grew up lacking self esteem and perhaps even stay away from sports.
However from young, Henke and Sheila Pistorius knew their son was different. Said Henke: "He was running all the time! He never walked. It was as if he couldn't walk."
Oscar is very close to his brother Carl, and he wants to do all kind of activities with his brother. Activities that were considered unthinkable by most disabled - like wakeboarding.
Carl Pistorius said: "Oscar never allowed his disability to hold him back from anything. In fact he is more adventurous than most of my friends."
During that wakeboarding trip they had, Oscar couldn't get up on his first few attempts. His prosthetic limbs were not flexible enough to allow him to stand up on the board. Normal people would have given up, but not Oscar.
With sheer determination and an extremely competitive nature, he finally mastered wake boarding.
Vicky Miles, his girlfriend said:" Oscar is extremely competitive. He hates losing. And i don't think he ever placed any limit on himself."
Oscar did not like Athletics Initially...
Until the age of 16, there were no signs that Oscar was going to be a dominant force in Athletics.
Ironically, as Oscar would say, he would try all sports when he can except Athletics, and his favorite sport was Rugby.
His stint in Rugby would be short-lived by a fateful tackle that seriously injured his knee. That however opened his road to Athletics.
Oscar was told by his team mates and coach that if he were to regain fitness for the coming Rugby season, he would have to take up Athletics.
He would test out a new type of carbon fiber prosthetic legs created by Ossur for his athletic endeavors. And from then on, there was no looking back.
2004 Paralympics Games In Athens
Barely eight months after starting athletics, Oscar Pistorius would announce his arrival in dramatic fashion...well almost.
He would represent South Africa in the Paralympics Games in Athens in the 100, 200 and 400m event.
Oscar's first event was the 200m, and he would be flanked by two renowned champions in the Paralympics 200m heats, Marlon Shirley and Brian Frasure. In his own words,Oscar was very scared at the start of the race. In addition, four false starts certainly did not help to ease his nerves.
When the gun shot went, everyone took off...except for Oscar. He had assumed that it would be another false start and he was waiting for the 2nd gun shot. It would not be until 1.8 seconds later that he realized that it was not a false start!
That only made what happened next astounding.
Oscar Pistorius would race from the last position and win the Gold medal in a world record time of 23.42sec. He had started slower than everyone by 1.8sec and he won by almost 1m! Oscar would go on to set another three world records in the 2004 Athens Paralympics.
Oscar Pistorius Seeks to become the First Disabled Athlete to compete in the Able Bodied event.
Since Oscar started athletics 4 years ago, he has never lost the 200m in a Paralympic competition. He always wants new challenges to push himself. And he would now attempt what was previously unthinkable - to race in the able-bodied competition.
Oscar feels the only way for him to get better, to improve his timing is to run in a competitive field of able bodied athletes.
Yet his efforts would be seriously hampered by the IAAF.
In Mar 2007, the IAAF banned "any technical aids that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such devices."
Many interpreted that as a direct ban on Oscar.
However as prosthetic blades had never been independently tested up to now, and had not been officially termed as a technical aid, Oscar was still able to compete in any events that he wants.
British Grand Prix In Sheffield June 2007
In June 2007, Oscar Pistorius was given a chance to fulfill his dream of competing against the world's best able bodied athletes.
He was invited to race in the British Grand Prix held in Sheffield, alongside luminaries like Jeremy Wariner, current world record holder in 400m and other top 400m runners in the world.
It would be a highly anticipated race - The Fastest Man On No Legs vs. The Fastest Man On Two Legs.
On that day, the gods did not favor Oscar. The rain that had started in the morning did not ease up at night, and the race had to be carried out in the rain. Oscar's prosthetic blades do not work particularly well in wet weathers and he knew that.
He would face a dilemma between competing and pulling out. If he pulls out, he might never have a chance to compete in such events again. If he chose to race, he could potentially make a fool of himself.
He chose to race. And unfortunately, it was not meant to be Oscar's night. Racing in the eighth and outermost lane, he would trail all the runners after 100m and eventually finished last. Worst, he would later be disqualified for straying out of lane.
Is Oscar Truly An Extraordinary Athlete? Or Did His Prosthetic Legs Give Him Unfair Advantage?
To fulfill his Olympic dream, Oscar would undergo experiments to determine if his prosthetic limbs gave him an unfair advantage over others.
Over a gruelling two days period, he was tested for his fitness and lung capacity. If they are found to be less than the able-bodied athletes, it would suggest that the prosthetic blades had given him an unfair advantage.
There would also be tests to measure how much energy the prosthetic blade would return as compared to human legs. This would be done by placing pressure plates on the floor, and when Oscar's prosthetic blades land on it, they would measure the pressure upon impact, and together with high tech cameras and infra-red technology, they could calculate the degree of spring created by the prosthetic blades.
Oscar's Olympic Dreams Lay In Limbo
On January 10th 2008, the IAAF ruled that the prosthetic blades gave Oscar Pistorius an unfair advantage over athletes not using the blades. This was based on the finding that the blades returned 90% energy as compared to 60% using human legs.
Oscar Pistorius was banned from the able-bodied events. His dream of competing in the Olympics in the able-bodied event was over...or so he thought.
Appeal To The Court Of Arbitration For Sports
Oscar and his team went to the USA to conduct additional tests and submitted an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports.
In May 2008, about 4 months later, the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled that the Prosthetic blades did not give Oscar an unfair advantage. Oscar was now free to compete in the Olympics.
However time was running out on Oscar.
With all the distractions going on, Oscar did not focus as much on training as he should and he could only achieve a time of 46.25 seconds in the 400 metres in Lucerne, Switzerland. He would fall short of the Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds by 0.7seconds.
He was also not selected for the 4 x 400 metres relay team as there were four other runners who had achieved better times.
Oscar was down but not out. He now set his sights on the 2012 London Games. I am firmly behind this man of steely determination.
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