When London’s 2012 Olympic Games begin later this month, one member of South Africa’s track team will be making history. Double amputee Oscar Pistorius has been selected to race the individual 400m and the 4x400m relay, one month before he is set to compete in London’s Paralympic games. Never before has an amputee athlete competed in any track event, in any Olympic games, so Pistorius’s races will change the course (no pun intended) of Olympic history for years to come.
There is the potential for controversy, however, over Pistorius’s qualifying times. His time in the African championships, his last qualifying race, was 0.22 seconds slower than the time that South Africa requires for its Olympic qualifiers. That said, he did place second in the African championships. Pistorius was the only runner chosen to compete for South Africa in the individual men’s 400m, fitting since he set South Africa’s fastest time this March, with a 45.20 400m race.
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee told the Associated Press that all athletes were chosen based on merit. Olympic Committee chief executive Tubby Reddy told the AP that their choice to clear Pistorius for the individual race came in part because he would already be in London to run the relay. For any other runner, that would have been the end of the discussion. I worry, though, that people will try to argue that Pistorius received preferential treatment because of the hardships he has overcome. Pistorius’s successes, and his status as the fastest runner in South Africa, should not be invalidated.
Pistorius’s road to London has been a long one. His legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, and he now runs on carbon blades that have earned him the nickname “Blade Runner.” The 25 year old holds world records in the 100, 200, and 400m events. In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled him ineligible to compete in the 2008 Olympics, on the grounds that his prosthetics lent him an advantage over other runners, a ruling that was shortly overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Even though he was declared eligible to compete in Beijing, Pistorius was unable to qualify for the South African team. Finally, he will be able to realize his dream of making it to the finals of a 400m Olympic race.
I am excited to watch Pistorius race in London. He posted to his Twitter account that “Today is one of the happiest days of my life!” and, after receiving many messages of support from his fans, he tweeted, “Still on cloud 9 but need to keep at what got me here so off to the Gym. Thank you all who shared today with me, I really appreciate it!” A soon-to-be Olympian who remains humble and celebrates his successes by working out? He’s definitely become an inspiration to me.