Timeout with the ‘Blade Runner’ – 1/2
Paralympian Oscar Pitsorius had a fantastic 2011 and just weeks into the new year, he’s at it again. The ‘fastest man on no legs’ is in Italy to compete in Dancing with the Stars,. but he took time out of his busy schedule to talk to the Laureaus website about his plans for 2012 and his nomination for two Laureaus Awards this year.
Can you tell us why you are in Italy at the moment?
OSCAR PISTORIUS: Over the last couple of years I have been very blessed to spend quite a bit of time in Italy. In 2007, I had my first international race a couple of kilometres down the road here in Rome and since then we've run a couple of races during the European season here. Our training camps are always held here, we've been in Grosetto for two seasons and this last year we were based up in Germona and we'll probably be based there for another two years. So the whole Italian way has become a bit of a second home away from home and it's a blessed place to be. The climate's great for competing and for running and the people are very crazy about sports and about track and field, so it seems to be quite a good place for us to be based.
You've adopted some of that Italian sporting culture. You support Lazio, is that right?
OP: Yeah, I support Lazio. I've got a good friend in South Africa whose family come from Rome and as a teenager on the weekends, I used to sit at his house and watch football with him and his family. You obviously pick up a lot of flak for supporting a team like Lazio, but it's more of a culture than anything else and it's a true blessing just to be able to be part of the followings here and the passion that they have for things like football.
But you're now involved in a different kind of sporting passion. You are here competing in Dancing with the Stars. Can you tell us about that?
OP: We arrived yesterday and we're actually shooting live tonight, so it's a very nerve racking thing considering I've never danced before. So last night we had a couple of hours of rehearsals and luckily for me I've got a very good dance instructor, who's extremely patient, but yeah, doing that tonight, never danced in my life, (I'm) very, very nervous, it's completely out of my comfort zone but I think we're going to have a good time and we're doing the tango so it's a little more loose-footed, but I think it will be a lot of fun.
How would you compare it to running in competition?
OP: You know, dancing is extremely, extremely technical. Running is technical, but when it's come over years and years of doing the same motions, constantly, I think it's something that I'm a lot more accustomed to. I can focus just on the physical performance and running, whereas dancing is very physical, but it's an extreme art form and it's very technical, so I find it a lot more challenging, especially to remember the different moves. You know, it's not just the foot placements but the actual timing that's extremely important. Luckily for me we've got a couple more hours rehearsal before tonight's performance.
It's obviously a sign of your growing fame and celebrity status that you're involved in an event like this. Can you tell us about how that feels?
OP: As sportsmen go through their career, their visibility sometimes gets better and better. I'm very lucky that I've got a phenomenal coaching staff and management staff (and) they keep me quite grounded and my priority's always on track, it's by far the biggest priority in my life, so we can fit things in like this. It's always a good laugh and a lot of fun, but ultimately the track is the thing that keeps me most intrigued and it's where I need to really perform. I wouldn't say that the fame is something that I've necessarily enjoyed over the last couple of years. I really enjoy running and I understand that (fame is) part of the game, but it's something that takes a long time to get used to and, I think, it'll still take a couple of years for me.
After last year and particularly the World Championships in Daegu, do you feel there's more people aware of you. Are you recognised more in the street?
OP: Yeah, I think my reactions are still very mixed. I often wear jeans or long pants and I'll pitch up for a meeting where I'm expected and people won't even notice it's me. They say “Oh, where's Oscar, you know, why is he late?” and I'll lift my hand and sometimes it take people aback.Then, often, after training, I'll pop into the supermarket just to get dinner and I'll be wearing my athletics clothes and then I'm obviously very recognisable having prosthetic legs. I often get kids coming and staring at my legs and I always explain to them about my prosthetic legs. Often parents tell them to stop staring, but they don't explain to them the notion of having a disability. So I always go up to the child and tell them that I lost my legs ‘cause of a shark' or something really cool, or I didn't eat my vegetables and that always goes down quite well. I think this last season's been very blessed and the running of the World Championships in Daegu obviously it raised my profile quite a bit, but ultimately we had three weeks (break) after last year and we went straight back into training. So I haven't really had much time to dwell on last year and we're already back in for this year and 2012's training.
Can you tell us a little bit about the emotion of Daegu?
OP: I think Daegu was a phenomenal experience. I always said going into the season that I'd like to qualify for the IAAF World Championships to gain an experience that I really think I need for London's Games this year. I've never participated before in a multi-international 400 metre event, so it was very stressful in a way, having to go through all the rounds to get to a semi-final. It was quite tough to stay focused. Physically, you're always prepared for a race like that, but getting there and being mentally prepared is completely different. So, I think my lack of experience definitely showed in the competition. I ran slower in the semi-final than I did in one of the heats, but I think ultimately I'll look back at the whole experience very fondly. It was something that I learnt a lot from and I had a lot of fun. It was really high end, quality competition. The athletes were tremendous to run against. It was a big learning curve for me.
Was this always a goal of yours to try and compete in the non-disabled sporting world?
OP: Yeah. Growing up I always participated in mainstream sports. I went to school with my brother and sister and participated in conventional non-disabled sports, if you can call it that, and in 2004 I actually had my first competition for athletes with disabilities. So it's just been a transformation from going from doing sports at a school level to a provincial state level to a national level. Every year has just been about improving my times really, whatever platform it's on. It's just about running the best race possible.
2011 was the first time in seven years you lost a 100 metre race. Was that a good thing? Has it whetted your appetite?
OP: Yeah, it's a great thing to lose a race every now and again, although I'm a very sore loser to be honest and that race was quite difficult. We had the IPC World Championships in Christchurch and I lost the 100 metre race for the first time in seven years against an American athlete, Jerome Singleton. He's a tremendous athlete. We've actually faced off against each other, four times in the last four years and every time I've beaten him, it has been below 200th of a second. (This time) he dipped me on the line for 2,000th of a second now and he won. I think that's the beauty of Paralympic sports, is it's so close. 100 metres is definitely one of the events that I'm going to struggle with at the London Paralympic Games, it's a very very close event.....you know, if you have one foot placing that goes off, or you're not explosive enough on the start, or your driving phase on the first 30 metres isn't good enough, you're not going to cut it by the end of that 100 metres. So, it's very exciting and very nerve racking and losing a race, I think, makes me a bit more hungry coming into this year.
Which of your events would you regard as your No 1? Your specialist event?
OP: The 400m is definitely my strongest event, that's the one that I'm focused on and I train, you know, 90% of the year for. When we get to big competitions like the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester or races like the Paralympics, the focus does shift a bit to some of the shorter events to get the speed work up there and explosivitiy, but it's very difficult going from a 400m where speed endurance is key, down to the sprinting event where power is the No 1 priority. So you've got a couple of weeks usually to shift a bit of training and focus, but ultimately the 400m is, I'd say, my strongest event, where the 200m is my favourite and the 100m is definitely the showcase event, but the one that I struggle with the most.
Everyone assumes that you're going to be at the London Olympic Games, but you've still got to get a qualifying time, haven't you?
OP: Yeah, now the London Olympics is still a fair, fair grasp away. We've got six months to go. There's two standards, the A and B. I run, I think, seven B qualification times. If I run two or more B qualification times, it's up to my Federation to choose me. If I run two A qualification times, it's kind of like an automatic qualification. So my goal would be to run an A qualification time somewhere during the period between March to the cut off date, which I think is the end of June.
And do you have a schedule? Have you picked the event that you're going to go and get this time?
OP: In the athletics world, we don't usually pick a certain race to run a time, but we've got a good indication of several events. Obviously, weather plays a huge part and sometimes you wake up on the day and you feel really good. Track surfaces are very important as well, so we've singled out a couple of races I'd like to run in.....so it's a bit of stress, but there are some really good races that I'm hoping to, to run in this year. One or two are already confirmed and, and they're a couple of others that I need to look at.
You have run times before that should allow you to be confident about getting this qualifying time, but is there pressure on you or are you relaxed?
OP: I'd say I've run the B. The A qualification time is 45.3. I've run 45.07 which is well in the A qualification standard. I've also run several times that are very close to the time of 45.3 and then I've run the B standard which is 45.75. I've run maybe eight times underneath that, so I am very confident, but I think although I'm optimistic, I'm also a realist and there's a lot of hard work that's got to go in, in the next two three months for pre-season. My weight is looking very good which is important for me and with that, you know, training is a lot easier when you're in the right shape. So, I'm very confident. I've got the right team, I've had the same coach for eight years and the same gym personnel for going on four seasons now. So, I've got a lot of faith in them and I know that they've got a lot of faith in me and we work well together. – www.laureaus.com