Heart-warming triumph of indomitable 'Blade Runner'
ATHLETICS/OSCAR PISTORIUS:LAST NIGHT’S semi-final was only part of the story. It began with a smile on Saturday morning, clouds racing over the London sky and sun splashing Olympic park.
That’s also where it ended. The story of Oscar Pistorious was not his time in the 400 metres. It was that he was there. The moment he stepped across the perimeter and into lane six for his first heat, the story of ‘The Blade Runner’ was complete. The rest was times and placement, a 400-metre end to a six-year marathon.
In it there was emotion and all the saccharine ingredients to make it the beautiful Olympic story. But Pistorious was also a tale of ambition and determination. His was a journey through biomechanics, science and the courts. There were objections and jealousy, cynics and bureaucracy, and Pistorious could have surrendered a dozen times. But he didn’t.
That is why it was doubtful if the South African heard the tick, tick, tick of his carbon fibre legs on the stadium track as 80,000 people rose to meet this curious, brilliant athlete on a morning where it was impossible to separate the race from the occasion.
Pistorious is the Paralympic champion muddying the waters and redefining the meaning of disability. And the Olympic Stadium was buying it. His family and friends were buying it and his 89-year-old grandmother clutching the South African flag was buying it as she watched her boy, born without shin bones, become the first amputee to compete on the track in the Olympics.
The 25-year-old runner was born without fibulas and his legs were amputated below the knee before he was a year old. That’s when the story began.
“I grew up not really thinking I had a disability,” he said before the race. “I just grew up thinking I had different shoes.” His prosthetics, called Flex-Foot Cheetahs, have been available for 16 years. But there has never been a disabled athlete to run close to the 45 seconds Pistorious has been running in the 400 metres.
Although he was cleared to compete by the CAS (world sport’s supreme court), reputable studies demonstrated he does have an advantage. The CAS may have got it legally right and scientifically wrong. Pistorious can reposition his lightweight artificial limbs in 0.28 seconds. The average limb repositioning time of six former 100-metre world record holders Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, Donovan Baily, Maurice Greene, Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin is 0.34 seconds. The Pistorious limb repositioning times are 15.7 per cent shorter than six of the fastest male sprinters in human history.
He spends less time in the air between steps, which reduces how hard he has to hit the ground to lift and move his body forward — the real driving force of a sprinter.
The carbon fibre prosthetics, which weigh 3kg less than able -bodied limbs below the knee, can accelerate faster, for less force.
Overall his stride frequencies are almost 16 per cent faster than any athlete ever measured.
A conclusion written in 2009 in the November edition of The Journal of Applied Physiology noted: “We conclude that the moment in athletic history when engineered limbs outperform biological limbs has already passed.”
Former Olympic champion Michael Johnson has admired his gallantry and inspiration but believes his inclusion is political correctness gone mad. All week Pistorious listened to the arguments and unperturbed met them with poise and courtesy.
“You have to look at the net advantage or a net disadvantage,” he said. “I’ve heard people saying I don’t have lower limbs, therefore I’ve got less weight. But there is also blood in those limbs, so I’ve got less blood. I don’t have the tendons running from my foot to my ankles to my knee.”
Pistorious was not the first Paralympian to compete at the Olympics. Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka, who was born with one arm, was in Beijing, as was one-legged South African distance swimmer Natalie du Toit.
But it has been the man with the wrap around shades wearing the yellow and green of his country, who has captured world attention.
As he raised his arm in the Olympic Stadium to salute the crowd, the tattoo on his left shoulder was momentarily visible. A quote from the Book of Corinthians, it said: “I do not run like a man who is running aimlessly.”
The focused journey was the Pistorious story. He came eighth last night in the 400m semi-final but his biggest race was won on Saturday morning.