Column: Pistorius 'wins' despite no Olympic medal
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By TIM DAHLBERG,
Updated August 10, 2012
LONDON (AP) By the time Oscar Pistorius got the baton he was so far behind that he wasn't going to catch the pack on the final lap, even if the carbon-fiber blades he was running on had superchargers. He and his South African teammates had no chance for a medal in the 4x400 final, though on this night the Olympics for them were about more than just winning a gold.
Pistorius would finish last, just as he had in the 400-meter semifinal a few days earlier. Though he was second-fastest of the four men on his team, his performance in these games should finally put to rest claims he has an unfair advantage because of the springs he runs on.
The results hardly mattered. His appearances at these games were more groundbreaking than spectacular even if it was a bit of a thrill watching him get around the track so fast on legs that were amputated beneath the knees before his first birthday.
The crowd packed into the Olympic stadium roared their support. His fellow runners showed theirs afterward with hugs and pats on the back.
He was a runner, and that was all. That was more than OK, because that's all Pistorius ever wanted to be.
Accepted for what he does, not for the way his missing legs force him to do it.
"Just a regular guy to me," U.S. runner Tony McQuay said. "I don't even look down and see what he's running with down there. Doesn't matter to me. I know Oscar's heart. Oscar's a great guy."
Pistorius has gotten about everything he can out of his J-shaped Cheetahs blades, but it still doesn't give him the push to start a race like runners with calf muscles or the ability to make a turn like runners who have ankles.
At first glance, you'd think he should be some sort of superman, bounding past other runners on his springs. The reality is, the blades help level the playing field but don't give him any special advantage. He still has to be a supremely trained athlete to even compete against the world's best on two good legs.
The best thing about it all in London may have been just how normal it seemed. That was all Pistorius could have asked out of an Olympics he had to fight to be in. The medals could wait for another time - say Rio, four years from now, when Pistorius thinks he will really be in his prime. This was more about competing hard and being accepted and, if they awarded a gold for that, Pistorius would have it around his neck.
"This week has just been one of the biggest blessings for me," Pistorius said. "It's taught me a lot. I've been inspired by so many athletes. Just to have had that opportunity to step outside, it's been absolutely phenomenal. I'm sure in a week I'm going to have the same emotions that I'm going to have in 40 or 50 years' time."
Pistorius isn't going to be the only one who has memories. Eighty thousand people in the stadium kept their eyes trained on him while he tried unsuccessfully to catch even one runner while the team from the Bahamas overtook the U.S. on the last lap to win the gold medal. Flashes went off throughout the stadium as he ran; it didn't matter than he was last.
His teammates will savor this night, too.
"Ten or 20 years from now we will still remember the day we ran with Oscar," said L.J. Van Zyl, who handed the baton off to Pistorius for the final lap.
Pistorius said he hasn't had a chance to reflect on what the week meant, though he believes it will inspire others with disabilities to try to perform beyond what people think they can do.
He never came close to winning a medal in his two races, but he achieved his goal of running in a 400-meter semifinal. The 400 relay final was more of a bonus, with South Africa getting in only after a protest over a collision in a heat the day before, when Pistorius was waiting for teammate Ofentse Mogawane to hand him the baton.
"Far beyond my expectations," Pistorius said, referring to his Olympic experience. "If I took all the positive things I thought might come out of this and multiply it by 10, it still couldn't come close."
More positive things could follow. Pistorius is competing in the Paralympics later this month, where he will defend his 100, 200 and 400 titles from Beijing and try for four gold medals.
"My job at the end of the day is to run," Pistorius said. "We've got the Paralympics in three weeks and I'm so proud to be a Paralympian. There are so many athletes just like myself who sacrifice things day in and day out."
The sacrifice for this week didn't show up in the medals chart.
But Pistorius is still one of the biggest winners in these games.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg