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When Olympic great Michael Phelps was beaten to gold by a fingernail in the 200m butterfly in London, he hurled his swimming cap into the water.
It was a momentary lapse. Years of competition and winning took over, and he quickly regained his composure to congratulate his conqueror, Chad le Clos. Phelps seemed to mean it, his post-race body language showing a respect and liking for the 20-year-old from Durban as they posed together for medal pictures.
Phelps’ recovery and poise were classy. This was more than a race, after all. It was the culmination of years of training and dedication – a lifetime of it, in fact.
So, too, at the Olympic stadium on Sunday, when Oscar Pistorius showed anger at his 200m loss. He had had a far greater battle than most Olympians to be there, and was unable in the adrenalin moment to conceal his ire at the shock loss.
Compounding his anger was the fact that he had been raising the issue of blade lengths for some time, warning of unfairness. And it happened.
Pistorius was right in argument, but wrong to raise it then. As one Paralympian said, he should have left the objection to the South African team’s management. It was unsporting.
He sought to recover on Monday, apologising for the timing of his outburst. He should merely have apologised for sounding off, though, omitting his qualification about the timing.
It was a jarring note in Pistorius’s conduct. His determination, humility and accessibility had made him personable, an extraordinarily popular figure with the Olympic audience and the British news media. But on Sunday night, he reminded us all that he was, after all, a competitor.
Pistorius erred, and he has what it takes to admit it. But the edge his opponent had with the longer blades was clear. The International Paralympic Committee should have the grace to concede this, and fix the discrepancy between Olympic and Paralympic rules.