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Five things you may not know about South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius

Jeff Eisenberg
Fourth-Place Medal

Oscar Pistorius (Getty Images)

Amid all the debate over whether Oscar Pistorius' lightweight artificial legs give him an unfair advantage over other sprinters, other aspects of the South African 400 meters runner's story are often overlooked.

Here's five things you should know about Pistorius in advance of his semifinal race Sunday at the Olympics.

• Track and field wasn't Pistorius' first love. He grew up playing water polo and rugby until he blew out one of his knees in a rugby match at age 16. When doctors advised him to take up running as part of his rehabilitation, it didn't take long before his sprinting talent became obvious to all. He won a 100-meter race at his school against boys with two good legs and quickly channeled his energy into running.

[ Related: Pistorius blasts critics ]

• It's a testament to Pistorius' late mother Sheila that he never thought of himself as handicapped as a kid. In interviews with reporters in London, Pistorius said his mother was so adamant about not treating him any differently than his brother Carl that she once told him, "Carl, you put on your shoes and Oscar you put on your legs, and that's the last I want to hear about it." "I didn't grow up thinking I had a disability," Pistorius said. "I grew up thinking I had different shoes."

• Pistorius has been known as "The Blade Runner" for years as a result of his J-shaped, carbon fiber prosthetic lower legs, but he isn't especially fond of his nickname. Asked about it by reporters in London this week, he chuckled and said, "I don't mind it. It's not one I'd choose, but it's OK."

[ Related: Pistorius steals spotlight with Olympic debut ]

• Pistorius clearly has some game off the track too. The New York Post reported last month that Pistorius has been seeing Anastassia Khozissova, the 33-year-old Russian supermodel who has walked for Chanel, Prada and Ralph Lauren, among others. When Pistorius secured his berth in the 400-meter semifinals on Saturday, Khozissova succinctly tweeted, "Yesssssss!!!!!"

• Not to be outdone by his girlfriend, Pistorius has done modeling work of his own. In 2011, his unusual look and compelling story caught the attention of executives at Thierry Mugler A*Men fragrances. They made him the centerpiece of an ad campaign in which his blades were dipped in liquid chrome and stylized to evoke the legs of a superhero.  "We have come to a time when people must understand that the world is diverse and that there is no such thing as conventional beauty," Joël Palix, president of Clarins Fragrance Group, told the New York Times.

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