Feb 14, 2013, 2:28 PM EDT
News that South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius had been charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on Thursday came as a shock to nearly everyone who had heard the runner’s inspirational story of his struggle to become the first double-amputee ever to compete at the Olympics.
Pistorius, now 26, was born without fibulas and and had to have his legs amputated below the knee at only eleven months old. That didn’t stop him from competing in rugby, tennis, and water polo while growing up in Pretoria, before being introduced to running in after suffering a knee injury.
Fueled by his competitive spirit and riding on his new racing “blades,” fitted for him by prosthetist Francois Vanderwatt, Pistorius went on to win gold in the 200m at the Paralympic Games in Athens only months after starting to race, and then finished sixth in at the 400m able-bodied national championships the next year.
He won the 100m, 200m, and 400m Paralympic world championships in 2006, and then set his sights on qualifying for the Beijing Olympics. One problem: Pistorius had a number of detractors, including world record holder Michael Johnson, who suggested that his disability was actually an advantage, since the runner raced on specially engineer carbon fiber limbs.
“I know Oscar well, and he knows my position; my position is that because we don’t know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics that he wears it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors…
“Oscar sees no limits; he has no fear when competing against able-bodied athletes. So it is hard for people to understand and to accept when you start to talk about whether or not he may have the advantage.”
The IAAF, track’s governing body, agreed, and banned any device using springs, wheels, or any other device that might provide an advantage in 2007, marking Pistorius ineligible for the 2008 Games.
Pistorius eventually won a reprieve with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in April 2008, which, after a two-day hearing in Switzerland, determined that Pistorius held no advantage and was allowed to compete against able-bodied runners.
“Oscar’s done so much for Paralympic sport and I’m grateful for all the eyes he has opened to what Paralympic sport can be,” British Paralympic gold medal sprinter Johnnie Peacock, who started racing after seeing Pistorius on TV, told the London Telegraph.
The “Blade Runner,” as he’s now known, didn’t qualify for the Olympics in 2008, but was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people after winning the right to compete, and signed sponsorship deals with Oakley, Nike, Thierry Mugler, and running blade manufacturer Ossur, in all totaling nearly $5 million.
Now able to compete against the world’s best, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to win an able-bodied world championship medal when his 4×400 relay team took silver in Daegu in 2011. And despite failing to run the necessary Olympic “A” standard qualification time twice, the South African Olympic Committee announced last July 4 that Pistorius had been selected for the Olympic team for the 400m and 4x400m relay.
Two months later, on August 4, 2012, Pistorius became the first double-amputee runner to compete at the Olympics. And better than that, he took second in his preliminary heat with a time of 45.44 seconds, a season best that put him into the semifinals.
“It just felt really magical,” Pistorius said. “If I could predict what it would feel like or imagine beyond my wildest dreams, this was probably 10 times that. To step out in front of a crowd this massive, it’s a mind-blowing experience,” he added. “I’ve had support in the last couple of days like I have never felt before.”This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
Pistorius was knocked out in the semis, finishing eighth in the race. After the event, the South African symbolically exchanged racing bibs with Kirani James of Grenada, who eventually went on to win the gold.
“This whole experience was amazing… to step out here in an Olympic final is more than I could have ever hoped for,” Pistorius said after that race. “That opportunity to come here once again and finish today and not yesterday is a dream come true.”
The inspirational athlete was asked to carry the South African flag at the Olympics Closing Ceremony as a tribute to his struggle and success, and went on to earn two more Paralympic golds a month later.
Apr 20, 2015, 3:14 PM EDT
“To become one of greatest gymnasts of all time, you have to have a little bit more.”
Apr 20, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
The top U.S. finisher was an Olympian in fourth.
Apr 20, 2015, 10:05 AM EDT
Bolt picked two sprinters across history he would like to race against.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:27 AM EDT
Leveaux details his claim in an upcoming autobiography.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT
Not even Michael Phelps has attempted this.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Katie Ledecky also flirted with a world record.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:17 AM EDT
The U.S. appears to have a better shot in the women’s race.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:09 AM EDT
Phelps has raced against a record-breaking woman before.
Apr 17, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
“I’m like, Michael, 2016, Rio, 50 free, 100 free, just a relay.”
Apr 17, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT
The finals are at 9 p.m. ET on Universal Sports.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
Plushenko wants to compete in a fifth Olympics in 2018.
Apr 17, 2015, 10:29 AM EDT
It took organizers about 20 minutes to figure out what happened Sunday.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:09 AM EDT
“It doesn’t seem like she has served a ban.”
Apr 17, 2015, 8:42 AM EDT
Phelps outdueled Ryan Lochte, but he was slower than last year.
Apr 16, 2015, 3:16 PM EDT
If Phelps is added by FINA, the U.S. might be able to try for podium sweeps at the World Championships.
Apr 16, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Phelps and Ryan Lochte appear headed for a showdown Thursday night.
Apr 16, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Canada has a shot to qualify for its first Olympics since 2000.
Apr 16, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT
“There is no legitimate case for nationality change,” a British official said.
Apr 16, 2015, 10:03 AM EDT
See Eugene’s bid video for 2019 that failed to get a taste of what Worlds will be like in the U.S.
Apr 15, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
The gold-medal game will be live on NBCSN.
- Vitaly Scherbo weighs in on Kohei Uchimura 0
- Meb Keflezighi eighth after stopping, throwing up, crying at Boston Marathon 1
- Usain Bolt runs his slowest 100m final ever; Brazil TV simulates Bolt’s dream 100m race 2
- Katie Ledecky eyes daunting double at World Championships 0
- Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte split duels in Mesa 0
- Boston Marathon preview: Can Meb Keflezighi repeat? 0
- Michael Phelps jokingly challenges Katie Ledecky to race 2
- Emotional Bode Miller medals in race that mattered most (61)
- Russian women kissing after relay victory at World Championships causes stir (60)
- IOC drops wrestling from 2020 Olympics (47)
- South Korea filing official complaint over Yuna Kim’s Olympic silver (39)
- Zola Budd, 47, dominates college runners in 5K (33)