Oscar Pistorius - Paralympics to Olympics
The London Paralympics was, by all reports, a resounding success. The spectacle occupied much of my free time over the past few weeks - in a way that no disabled event ever has.
I had rarely watched sports events involving disabled athletes previously. Possibly this was because of guilt - I am able bodied, even if I do spend far too little time in the gym or on the court. It was always quite a peculiar sense of unease that floated to my conscious surface whenever disabled events were shown on television. I ascribe it to guilt but the discomfort has always been acute, even if its precise emotion is not. I must also confess that I may have felt some sense of pity... readers can all frown in disapproval now, but that is simply the truth. Some readers will even uncomfortably admit within themselves that they have felt a similar discomfort with disabled athletes.
The 2012 London Paralympics changed all that and certainly changed how I feel towards "disabled" athletes. Those athletes are supreme achievers in the speciality they have chosen and, without doubt, guilt was the last emotion I felt. Amazement, possibly; pity, definitely not!
One person more than all others has grabbed the attention of millions of viewers, including mine - not because of his disability or even in spite of it. He has grabbed captivated because of his ability.
Oscar Pistorius - Cross-over athlete
The most acclaimed "disabled" athlete from the recent Paralympic Games 2012 held in London was undoubtedly Oscar Pistorius. He is the world's iconic cross-over athlete and the first amputee sprinter to move from competing in disabled events to competing against able-bodied athletes at the Olympic Games. He is also the first double leg amputee to compete in the Olympics.
He won the gold medal in the Paralympics 2012 for the men's 400 metre race in the T43 and T44 category in a spectacular and fitting climax to the games, having earlier broken the world record with his teammates in the 4 x 100metres relay.
Oscar Pistorius was born without the fibula bone and this resulted in his parents electing double below-the-knee amputations after extensive medical consultation. On the advice of doctors, the amputation was carried out before he learned to walk to minimize trauma and improve his mobility later in life. He became a prolific athlete and while still at school, ran quicker than the 100 metre Paralympic sprint record, after just a few weeks of competitive athletics.
He is popularly known as the "blade runner" because of the Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon-fibre prosthetic legs he uses. As early as 2008, he was identified by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people. During the recent Olympics and Paralympics he proved himself every bit worthy of the accolade and he is responsible for much of the increased interest in the world of disabled sports.
Asked by a journalist for his sporting motto, he said: "You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have."
Paralympics and Olympics athletes
The South African blade-runner is not the only athlete to have competed in both disabled and able-bodied events.
His fellow South African and multiple world-record holder, swimmer Natalie Du Toit, competed against able-bodied athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, years after her lower left leg was amputated. She also competed and won gold at the recent 2012 London Paralympics, before ending her competitive swimming career with a silver in the women's S9 100 metre freestyle.
Natalie was the first athlete in history to compete in disabled and able-bodied Olympics in the same year, along with the remarkable Natalia Partyka. This Polish table-tennis star was born without a left forearm and hand and does not regard herself as disadvantaged, but merely facing different challenges from other athletes.
The Paralympics came about from a doctor's determination to use sport in the rehabilitation for injured World War II troops. The 2012 Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair tennis quad singles went to an Israeli war survivor Noam Gershony who was paralyzed in a helicopter crash during the Hezbolla war in 2006. This was Israel's first gold of the most recent games.
Paralympic organisers hailed the ''seismic effect in shifting public attitudes'' to disability sports, claiming that the Games have changed public perception forever.
Lord Coe also said that he would like to think that extending the excitement from the Olympic Games into the Paralympic Games and that exhilaration has led to a greater education. "I think people will leave understanding a great deal more about the world they are living in.''
I cannot comment on others but know without a doubt, that never again will I feel pity. I am embarrassed now by how I felt previously, but know that I'm looking forward to more sporting events, regardless of who competes. There is no longer any difference in my mind between able-bodied or disabled. There are just great sporting achievements.