With much of the hype at the London Olympics centered on Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, and deservedly so, one athlete who is also garnering lots of attention is South African track star, Oscar Pistorius. Although he hasn’t won any Olympic gold medals like Phelps or Bolt, or even made it through to the finals of his event—the 400m—his accomplishments on the track have inspired a multitude of people, including the athletes he competes against.
Unlike other Olympic-caliber runners, Oscar Pistorius, known as the “Blade Runner”, competes as a double amputee— the first double amputee to ever compete at an Olympic Games. His journey to compete in these Olympics started 25 years ago, when he was born without fibulas, and had to have both legs amputated below the knee. Since then, he has been battling the perceptions that disabled people aren’t able to do things that able-bodied people can. Fortunately, he grew up in a house where putting on his prosthetics was just as normal as putting on shoes before the start of the day. This culture—one where he never felt “different”—allowed him to thrive in sports.Enter 2008. Already a dominant Paralympic runner, Pistorius entered the year with legitimate chances to gain a spot on the South African Olympic Team competing in Beijing. Yet, the IAAF, the world-governing body for track and field, ruled that his prosthetics created a “competitive advantage” for Pistorius, and he became ineligible to compete in any track events conducted under their rules, including the Olympics. Eventually, after several months, the Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed the ruling, stating that there was no evidence his prosthetics gave him an advantage. While he didn’t make the South African Olympic Team that summer, he went on to win gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 sprints at the Paralympic games.
Four years later, after a long and arduous journey, Pistorius finally achieved his goal of competing in the Olympic Games, running the 400m and 4x400m relay at the London Games. Not only did he compete, but shockingly to many, he made it through to the semi-finals of the 400m (the 4×400 relay will be conducted later in the week). Kirani James, a fellow competitor who won the semi-final Pistorius was in, said after the race, “My hat’s off to him, just coming out here and competing. I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What’s more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect.”
In a sports-obsessed culture, especially during the Olympics, it’s often easy to forget that the outcome of the event isn’t always the most important aspect of the sport. In Pistorius’ case, his success in track as a double amputee has led other disabled people to follow the mantra, “If he can do it, I can do it.” It’s giving others inspiration to take a risk—going for something they thought before they couldn’t do. And this isn’t confined to disabled people, because we can all take the inspiration of Oscar Pistorius to heart.