London 2012 has launched several South African stars: Cameron van der Burgh, Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain, John Smith, James Thompson, Chad le Clos and his ebullient dad, Bert.
But the man who has stolen hearts around the world is Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius, the first double amputee to take part in the Olympics.
He is not new to the global stage; his long fight to take part in able-bodied events was big news. He has been on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people; has been honoured by the Laureus sports body, and his remarkable story has been widely told. His picture has been plastered in Tube stations and on London buses in the run-up to the Olympics and Paralympics.
Saturday saw a high point in the story of this South African gem: the 80 000-strong crowd in the Olympic Stadium roared as he was introduced at the start of his heat, which he finished second to reach the goal he had set: last night’s 400m semi-finals.
For many, the footage of Pistorius setting his blades in the starting blocks brought home his courage, determination and spirit. His beaming face spoke volumes. He said later he was so emotional he did not know whether to cry or smile.
Twitter came alive, with messages from stars such as Samuel L Jackson and Gary Player, to US soldiers who had lost limbs, to ordinary people taking inspiration from our star. Many received a reply or a simple “thank you”.
Pistorius did not make the finals last night, but that was never expected. Just competing against the world’s best, out there under the lights after a six-year-long battle, was his victory.
Gold is to be admired, cheered and celebrated. But Pistorius’s achievement was every bit as precious, making him a global role model for pursuing a dream. His conduct on and off the track did this country proud. We salute a real South African hero.