Oscar Pistorius is not going to win an Olympic medal in the men's 400-meter dash and, in fact, is a long shot to even make Monday's final. But it's unlikely there will be a more compelling story out of the London Games. Simultaneously controversial and inspiring, the 25-year-old South African was born without fibula bones and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. But thanks to prosthetic legs he had an active childhood, enthusiastically participating in sports. "I grew up not really thinking I had a disability," he says. "I grew up thinking I had different shoes."
These days, those "shoes" are a set high-tech carbon-fiber blades — which have earned him the nickname The Blade Runner. Since taking up sprinting in 2004 Pistorius has established himself as the world's fastest amputee athlete by a wide margin, winning the 400 at the 2008 Paralympic Games by more than three seconds. In 2008 he was briefly banned from able-bodied competition, then reinstated following legal challenges to the scientific findings that claimed his blades gave him extra propulsion on the track.
Last year Pistorius broke through to the highest level of the sport, qualifying for the world track and field championships and advancing to the semifinal round. His fastest time, 45.07 seconds, earned him qualification to the Olympics, where he will be the first-ever double-amputee athlete to compete. He has become one of London's most iconic athletes, racking up sponsorship deals, media adoration and legions of Twitter followers. "I absolutely admire Oscar Pistorius. I think he is not only an amazing athlete, but such a great person," says U.S. sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2009 world champion in the women's 400. "I'm excited about what he is doing, and the possibilities he is proving for someone with artificial legs, to not just compete but really compete."
NBC track and field analyst Ato Boldon is another admirer: "Forget the fact he's an inspiration to millions and millions of people, I believe that he is worthy of running in the Olympics." That said, the 400 is especially deep this year, led by defending Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt of the United States and reigning world champion Kirani James of Grenada. Pistorius could find his medal chances better as a member of South Africa's team for the 4x400-meter relay, which is scheduled for next Thursday and Friday, Aug. 9—10.
The heats of the men's 400-meter run will be streamed live at nbcolympics.com on Saturday at 5:45am/ET and shown on tape delay during NBC's daytime coverage, which begins at 9am/8c.
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