And the Oscar goes to Olympics?

Updated: Sep 10, 2011, 10:46 AM IST

Nishad Vellur

Oscar Pistorius ran along a very visible and pronounced line between an able-bodied and a disabled athlete at the Daegu Stadium in Korea in the World Championships. At the end of the race, he showed that it was a nebulous line, almost invisible. Perhaps, that was what he really wanted, to prove that he was just like any other runner. But he was wrong. He was one in a million.

In a momentous event, defying all known boundaries of human frailties and disabilities, Oscar Pistorious created history in one of the biggest athletics event. Beating some of the best able-bodied sprinters in the 400-metre category, he came third in heats. Ok, he did not win or qualify for the final, but it was a feat which will go down in the annals of sporting history as a defining moment.

A man who had both his lower legs amputated when he was just a baby, Pistorious, never considered himself disabled or differently-abled. True to his sporting motto-- that you`re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have--he became a Paralympic champion four times. Now, it`s his dream to "be given the chance to compete and compete fairly with able-bodied athletes" in the Olympics. His dreams have never been unreachable.

In July 2011, in Italy, he ran 400 metres in 45.07 seconds, his personal best, and the fastest time recorded by an amputee. The result ensured the 24-year-old a chance to represent the South African track team for the 400-metre heats in the World Championships in Daegu. For the first amputee to ever compete in the World Championships, he took just 45.39 seconds to qualify in third place in heats.

"That it was a big sense of relief. Being here has been a goal I have had for many years. I have worked extremely hard to be here and it was phenomenal to run today," he said soon after the feat.

In our Indian scenario, to run 400 metre in 45.07 seconds by an able-bodied athlete in itself is a great achievement. To be precise, the fastest Indian to complete 400 metre was KM Binu during the Athens Olympics, 2004. Binu, who currently holds the 400-metre national record clocked 45.48 seconds, which means, the current Indian record holder would not have come remotely near Pistorius if they ran together.

Oscar Pistorius ran for the first time with able-bodied athletes in 2007. But a ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) made him ineligible to take part in the events with able-bodied athletes in future, which included the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Based on a study done by Cologne Sports University in 2007, IAAF, found that his ‘Ossur Cheetah’ blades gave him 10-second advantage in the 400-meter race.

The explanation by the IAAF that “his prosthetic legs would sully the purity of sport” would have almost deferred Pistorius’ Olympic hopes for ever. But he was soon cleared after the IAAF`s decision was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This came as a sliver of hope to his run for the 2008 Games. Unfortunately, he fell short of the qualifying mark by a whisker. To be selected for the South African team to compete at the London Games, Pistorius must run 400m inside the 45.25 seconds between January and June 2012. So far, he has defied all odds and reached this far, so scaling the Olympics would perhaps be his penultimate test to becoming the greatest sporting hero.

True, it is impossible not to acknowledge Oscar Pistorius` achievements; however, it is equally impossible to ignore the undercurrent produced by this man`s shining success. A few of the Paralympians feel that his participation will nullify the concept of the Paralympic Games. Others pose discomfiting questions from the technological front about his prosthetic limbs. Critics claim that he has an added advantage over the athletes with his Cheetah blades. For which he asks (and answers), "If my shoes (carbon-fibre prosthetics) are so great, why other Paralympians are not running the times I am?” The decision by the IAAF to allow him to compete alongside able-bodied athletes still remains under a lot of controversy. But maybe it`s time to leave aside all the cynicism and embrace Pistorius. Afterall, who can deny the positive energy he exudes? A beacon of hope and inspiration to all those with disabilities, Oscar Pistorius is a true sporting hero. The world celebrates with him.

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