Oscar Pistorius—aka the "Blade Runner"—made history earlier this month when he was chosen to be on the South African relay team for the London 2012 Summer Olympics, which kick off today. A double amputee, he runs on carbon-fiber blades and will participate in the individual 400 meters and the 4x400 meter relay.
Pistorius is the first amputee to compete in track and field at the Olympics. This is a man who's shown the world that he is a great runner, period—not a great "disabled" runner. He's never let his disabilities define him. As he's said, "You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have."
This is the man who might just be the most controversial athlete at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
Pistorius was born without fibulas, key bones for the lower leg; his feet had structural problems too. When he was 11 months old, his parents had both legs amputated halfway between his knee and ankle rather than put him through years of reconstructive surgery that had no guarantees. In his autobiography Blade Runner, he recalled to NBC sportcaster Mary Carillo, he tells the story of walking on the beach as a boy and noticing that his feet left impressions on the sand that weren't the same as other kids'. "My footprints are different," he told his parents. "No," they replied, "they're just better."
Pistorius took up running as part of rehab for a rugby injury. His legs are j-shaped Flex-Foot Cheetahs, made of layers of carbon fiber (there's a good explanation of how they work here). Some thought the spring in his stride gave him an edge over other runners. In 2008, after making Oscar go through a gamut of intensive tests, the International Association of Athletics Federations banned "technical devices" that "provides a user with an advantage over another runner not using a device."
The ruling was overturned the next year by a Court of Arbitration for Sport, saying there was no proof of that. As the man who's made Pistorius's blades for years told Carillo, holding one up, "This thing won't run if someone doesn't make it run."
Even now, the blades continue to spark controversy. CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel said that Pistorius's competing in the 2012 Olympics would set a "regrettable precedent." A Chicago Sun Times writer wrote, "We're celebrating the will of one human being, but also the science and physics behind the two carbon-fiber prostheses that help a double amputee run fast. We're certainly not celebrating common sense or fairness."
Wrong, knucklehead: We're celebrating a talented athlete here. As Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post put it, "Oscar Pistorius's prosthetic calves are hardly his greatest advantage. You can't manufacture his brand of emotional gasoline, or build aspiration out of carbon fiber.... The substance he runs on is called the athletic heart, and there is no external way of acquiring it, and it's why our fretting over so-called 'enhancement' is misguided."
Pistorius literally has a winning track record: At the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, he twice broke the 200-meter world record. He subsequently broke records for the 100m and 400m, too. Then he started competing against able-bodied runners. In London, Pistorius will also race in the Paralympic Games. Per the official Olympics 2012 Track & Field Schedule, it looks like his first heat is tomorrow.
"I enjoy challenging the way people think," he says in this video. "When they see someone with a disability, they always focus on the disability. That deception is something I want to kind of alter."
Oscar is running for South Africa and himself, of course. To me, he's also running for Max, and for all kids and adults with physical disabilities. And in my mind, he's already won a victory for them all.
Run, Oscar, run.