Fri, September 20, 2013

Crowd roars for Blade Runner at Olympics

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Oscar Pistorius is an inspiring athlete to watch, Steve Simmons writes.

LONDON -  If it’s possible for a stadium to smile, then the Olympic Stadium was collectively grinning with excitement and appreciation Saturday morning.

There, standing in Lane 6, waiting for his first Olympic race, making history, was Oscar Pistorius, looking from afar like one of those superheroes from the movies, listening to all the applause as his name was announced.

The Blade Runner, they call him, and his first appearance at the Olympics was a stop-time moment to remember, a sporting event to cherish.

And then the gun went off and the athlete who lost the bottom half of both legs to amputation before his first birthday was running 400 metres on the same track with the best in the world, the focus not on his carbon-fibre prosthetics, but on the form that saw him run his heat in 45.44 seconds. And it was only at the beginning and only at the end of the race where you could openly recognize there was something distinct about the South African, Pistorius.

“He’s amazing,” said Byshon Nellum, the American sprinter. “It takes a lot of courage and confidence for Oscar to do what he does. I have so much respect for him, so much admiration. Hats off for him coming out here and competing and adding a lot of interest to our sport.

“The first time I saw him, it was like wow, just wow. I’m definitely inspired by this guy. It’s easy to give up. A lot of people give up. This guy is out here doing this. I think he’ll inspire a generation not to give up on their dreams.”

Nellum knows a little bit about not giving up. Three years ago he didn’t know if he would ever walk again, let alone make it to the Olympics. He was walking out of a Halloween party in Los Angeles on his way to his car when he heard the sounds of gunshot: bang, bang, bang. He was shot in the legs three times and required surgery in both legs.

“I can relate to him a little,” said Nellum, “But at the same time, I have both my legs.”

All Pistorius has known in his life is prosthetics.

In his first heat of the 400 Saturday morning, he raced in 45.44, good enough to qualify and advance to the next round. Good enough to run the 16th-best time in a field of 49. He isn’t a contender here. But what he wants more than anything is to belong.

And it took a legal scrap to get him here. That fight he won in court against the governing body of track and field. It probably doesn’t matter which side of the argument you’re on — for him, or against him — watch him run once and you’ll change your mind.

You can’t help but be both in admiration and amazed.

He ran Saturday thinking of his late mother, Sheila, and with his grandmother in the stands, and with those who run in his event all behind him.

“My mother was such a big part of my life.” he said, “My family’s been such a huge sense of support for me. I thought of my mommy a lot today. She was kind of a hard-core person. She didn’t take no for answer.”

His mother taught him: Losers aren’t the people who get involved and finish last. “They’re the person who doesn’t get involved in the first place,” he recalled her saying. “It’s definite that her spirit helped me get here today.”

Her child, born without a fibula, with the legs cut off below knees at 11 months of age, ran the 16th best time in the first round of qualifying in the 400.

He is now and will always be an Olympian. But he can’t forget or dismiss his past.

“My first Paralympics Games in Athens was one of the highlights of my career. I was a 17-year-old kid with curly hair and braces and I didn’t know what to expect. That was just mind-blowing for me.”

Four years ago he didn’t qualify for the Beijing Olympic team, but won three gold in the Paralympics in China. Now, against all odds, this.

A stadium smiling. A crowd in awe. The fastest man on no legs can’t wait to see what comes next.

“Fame doesn’t make you run faster,” said Pistorius. “Hard works does.”

simmons.family@rogers.com

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