Paralympic Games: Sweet success for Oscar Pistorius
IN the last stadium race of the final weekend at the 14th Summer Paralympic Games, Oscar Pistorius gave them what they had been waiting for.
The South African runner who has succeeded, more than anyone, in popularising disabled athletics put behind him a controversial week to sign off with a gold medal in London last night.
Pistorius didn’t just win the T44 400m final, he managed in the process to beat Alan Oliveira, the Brazilian whose blades he had questioned after the 200m final. It had been a billed as a rematch, even a grudge match, but in the end, it was no contest. Oliveira was fourth behind Blake Leeper and David Prince, who won silver and bronze respectively.
Pistorius crossed the line in 46.68 seconds. Having competed in 11 races this summer, he admitted that he had been nervous, and a little tired beforehand, but it would have been a travesty if the superstar of disabled athletics had not won what was his first individual gold medal at these, the greatest Paralympic Games in history.
“It was very, very special to me,” he said. “The last event of my season, the last [stadium] event of London 2012. I just wanted to give the crowd something that they would appreciate and take home with them. I am so proud. This summer has been a dream come true. I could not have hoped for anything better. It has been the most amazing Olympic Games, the highlight of my life.”
The Games have been nothing if not eventful for Pistorius. The man who won three gold medals in Beijing four years ago added another with victory in the 4x100m relay (in which his team broke the world record). He was beaten in the 100m final by three others, including Great Britain’s Johnnie Peacock, but his defeat in the 200m final provoked a controversy that will rumble on long after tonight’s closing ceremony.
Pistorius questioned the validity of Oliveira’s blades after the Brazilian beat him with a late surge across the line. Although the silver medallist later apologised for the timing of his remarks, he made no attempt to take them back. Several others have since agreed that the length of Oliveira’s prosthetics gave him an advantage.
The trouble is that similar questions were asked of Pistorius when he began competing against able-bodied athletes. The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld his appeal against an IAAF ban in 2008 but two members of its scientific team have since said that he swings his legs 20 per cent quicker with the aid of technology. Pistorius, who reached the 400m Olympic semi-final last month, was no more guilty of breaking the rules than Oliveira, given that both had been declared eligible, but the issue of technology, and the potential for abuse of the classification system, is the Paralympic problem that will not go away.
Still, Pistorius can be proud of his contribution to these Games. He has not been able to dominate them in the way that he was expected to, but he is the inspiration behind them. Sebastian Coe called him the father of the Paralympic movement, at least in its modern form. Not only has he been the poster boy for disabled athletes liberated by technology, he has also blurred the line between them and their able-bodied equivalents. Peacock bought a ticket to see Pistorius last month, when he became the first amputee to run in the summer Olympics. More than six million viewers watched last week’s 100m final on C4. The channel’s previous record for a live event was 4.4m, for the 200m final.
The irony is that, while all this has been great for the cause, it hasn’t been so great for Pistorius, who is a victim of his own success. The pool of paralympic athletes used to be so shallow that the outstanding ones among them were not properly challenged. In many respects, that is still a problem, as the heats for last night’s final demonstrated. Oliveira virtually walked over the line in his qualifier. Pistorius at least had the good grace to jog.
But the growing number of participants, inspired by the likes of Pistorius, is such that it is no longer possible for him to turn up and stroll through events he has not trained for. He won three gold medals in Beijing, but this time he had no chance in the 100m, and however controversial his defeat in the 200m, it was a close race.
He has always insisted that the 400m is his priority, the one to which he devotes most of his time and energy. Running in lane four, Pistorius was quick out of the blocks, and, although he was neck and neck with Oliveira down the back straight, he pulled away on the last two bends and eventually obliterated the field.
Coe admitted that he wanted him to win, for the neutrals, for the Games, and for paralympic sport. “He has the star quality. He was controlled. It was the last event and he had the last word in these championships. It was absolutely majestic.”
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