LONDON – Oscar Pistorius came to the Olympics with no legs, a huge heart, and a simple goal: to compete.
He inspired, of course. The world almost unanimously supported the South African who lost the lower part of his legs at age 1 and became a brilliant athlete anyway.
That wasn't the point though. Not his, at least.
The Blade Runner is a competitor. He is a runner. And like every other competitive runner at these Games, he wanted to run as fast as possible, be as great as possible. He wasn't different from everyone else. He was just another guy trying to whip around the Olympic Stadium.
So there he was Friday, the anchor leg of the 4x400 final, an Olympic final, with medals on the line.
His team was overmatched. It stood no chance against the Bahamas and the United States, who won gold and silver, respectively. It got into the final only by winning an appeal after Kenya was disqualified. That was OK. South Africa was in the race.
When Pistorius got the baton, they were in eighth place, but he dug deep, turned it on during the backstretch, barreled through the second turn, and gave every ounce he had until he crossed the line.
South Africa was still in eighth, but Pistorius's split of 45.67 was second-fastest on the team. They picked up .17 seconds on Venezuela and .62 on Belgium, the seventh- and sixth-place finishers, respectively.
"I ran a very good backstretch and second corner, and then coming into the home stretch, there was just a little bit too much work," he said afterward, wearing a big smile. "I'm very proud of my team."
And that was always the point for Pistorius. He was another athlete, another competitor looking for a challenge. Yes, the blades on the bottom of his legs made him physically different, but mentally, emotionally, competitively, he was the same as the others.
If that image wound up inspiring the world, then great; just don't think he was here as a show.
[ Photo: Inspirational Oscar Pistorius ]
If anything, Pistorius said he was in awe of everyone else, all the world's greats on one stage, all the runners striving to do better and better. "I've been inspired by a lot of athletes here."
Thursday he watched an 800-meter race and witnessed those runners hitting numbers they'd never before seen.
"Personal bests, and not by a small margin, but by huge barriers," he marveled. "Every athlete out here trains as hard as they can for four years. They sacrifice."
Pistorius has won four Paralympic titles and will stay in London and compete in those games in a couple of weeks. He wanted to challenge in the main Olympics though, and when he qualified with his performance and was approved by various sports courts, what he wanted was to race in an Olympic final.
He reached the semis in the 400-meter individual race and declared that a success. The relay was his best shot, South Africa having finished second in a world championship event. When one runner fell during a heat Thursday, the dream appeared over. Then Kenya was disqualified, and an appeal was possible, although seemingly unlikely to succeed.
One of the South Africans, L.J. Van Zyl, had actually begun heading home when word came down that the team was back in, given the ninth spot in the final based on its previous performance.
"I was on my way to the airport, and I got a call from our team leader to come back and unpack our bags," Van Zyl said, laughing.
So here came the big moment: a prime time run, bright lights, full house of 80,000 at the Olympic Stadium, medals hanging in the balance. South Africa wasn't going to win. It was going to compete, though. The Blade Runner was running.
"Far beyond my expectations," he said of the experience. "If I took all the positive things I would have thought about this, I wouldn't have been close."
He vows to go just as hard at the Paralympics. And he says he'll be in Rio in 2012. This has been too great an experience to give up on doing it again. He doesn't know what the impact of being here will be. He just relishes how his fellow Olympians have treated him.
[ Video: Pistorius earns legions of London fans ]
"I have so much respect for them being supportive of me. The general public, the majority has been so supportive. There's been a very small number that's had their opinions, but my job at the end of the day is to run."
So he ran, chasing after opponents long after the race was out of hand, giving his all until the end and then celebrating that very basic achievement. The legs don't matter.
He has heart. The same heart as everyone else here, he notes. He isn't special.
"For me, I've always done what I do because I love training, and I love being the best that I can be," Pistorius said.
"For me, that's special."
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