at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
The fastest man on no legs and the fastest man on two legs were the talk of London town on Sunday night. Oscar Pistorius was still giving interviews when Usain Bolt won the 100-metres final. The South African applauded as Bolt defended his Olympic title with an Olympic record of 9.63 seconds last night.
Pistorius came last in his semifinal, running a second slower than his qualification time in the heats with a 46.54 second run. He would not be happy with that as his aim had been to set a personal best, perhaps breaking the 45-second barrier. But his initial goal, making the semifinal, had been done. He was feted before the crowd and then lauded by them and his competitors afterwards.
“I think Oscar had a bad start and he won’t be happy with the time,” said Martyn Rooney, the British 400m runner who also failed to progress. “But if you look at the crowd here and the reception they gave him, well, all those people who said he shouldn’t be here, well they can just eff off.”
Now, Pistorius is an Olympian and on Sunday night he had the 80 000 in the Olympic Stadium regard him as such. Last night there were few in the crowd who would have denied him this moment. Those who continue to question his presence at these Games, pointing at his legs with accusations that he is gaining an advantage would have had a hard time convincing those who cheered him before, after and during his run. He made being disabled another condition not a death sentence. Around the world, you feel, there are those in rolling in wheelchairs and limping on crutches who will be treated with a little more respect, who will walk a little taller and be accepted a little bit easier. That is the Pistorius effect. He fought not only to be an Olympian for selfish reasons, but for the disabled as a whole. Suddenly it was no longer a sin not to have legs.
The world champion, Kirani James from Grenada, asked Pistorius for his name tag. It was a mark of respect for the South African, and each and every one of those who had run against him in the semifinal came up to shake his hand and hug him. Then he looked up and the crowd went wild for him once again. “It takes a lot of courage for him to race here and compete. Oscar should be an inspiration for us all,” said James. “Whether we are disabled or not. It's an honour to compete with him.”
In the top tier of the stadium, just where the track starts to turn into the long corner before the final straight, Pistorius had a fan club from his Italian base in Gemona. “Make it happen Oscar. Pistorius a Gemona simpri a manete.”
The Italian, I was assured by Rob Hunter, the South African cycling champion and Tour de France stage winner who is fluent in Italian, means “he is always going flat out”. Pistorius went flat out last night, but it was just not enough.
Pistorius is beginning to get the feel of the Olympic track, which will stand him in good stead ahead of the 4x400m relay when the qualification for that event starts on Thursday. “It was mind-blowing,” said Pistorius. “I did what I wanted to before I came here and made the semifinal. I still have the relay to run, and I’ll be working towards that. It has been an unbelievable experience. I didn't come here to prove a point. I wanted to do the best I could possibly do and push myself as hard as I can.”
“I won't know who to shout for (in the final on Monday night. They are such gentlemen. This has been one of the best experiences of my life. Just being out in front of this crowd, 70,000 felt like 170,00, was an unbelievable experience
“When we crossed the line, for Kirani James to give me his number shows the kind of sportsmen we have in the Olympic Games. We have a lot of respect for each other. For him to ask for my bib shows what a true gentleman he is.”
In the wee hours of Monday morning Samuel L Jackson, the American actor, sent out a tweet, and though he didn’t mention him by name, all of his 1.2-million followers knew that he was talking about Pistorius.
“I don't care WHO you are, that’s MOVING! SA RUNNER is a true example of Human Determination! Rock On Dude!”
And rock on Pistorius did.