London calling Blade runner Pistorius
Apart from Usain Bolt, the world’s most famous athlete is probably Oscar Pistorius, the man who is known as ‘Blade Runner.’
Pistorius on right track to make an Olympic impact — and so is our boy Jason Pistorius, who runs on prosthetic legs, recently became the first amputee to win a World Championship track medal as part of the South Africa squad that took 4x400m silver in Daegu.
And Pistorius has tipped Eglinton’s Jason Smyth — Paralympic champion at 100m and 200m — to be a huge hit at next year’s London Olympics.
Smyth — who is visually impaired — is just a whisker away from the ‘A’ qualifying standard that would guarantee him a place at the Games.
And Pistorius has no doubt that the 24-year-old — the first Paralympian to compete at the European Championships when he reached the semi-finals in Barcelona last year — will achieve the 10.18 ‘A’ grade time.
“Jason Smyth has had a phenomenal season — he ran a personal best of 10.22,” said Pistorius, also 24.
“He has great ability and definitely does his best to promote the Paralympic movement. I have a lot of respect for him.
“As an athlete he has the talent to achieve the ‘A' standard. He is a very professional athlete and I'm sure he has a few good years ahead of him.
“I'm sure he will be in the mix for the London Olympics.
“It's fantastic to see any Paralympic athlete compete on an able bodied level, be it at county standard, regional, international, whatever.
“The fact that Jason (pictured) and I do it at international level is no different to the tens of thousands of athletes with a disability who are competing around the world.
“That's important because we constantly need to push our boundaries and do the best we possibly can do.
“I think we will see this happening more and more over the years.”
Pistorius admitted that challenging on both Olympic and Paralympic fronts makes for a hectic schedule.
“It does provide challenges, but I don't think it's hard. The biggest challenge is probably peaking at the right time of the season.
“A lot of that is down to coaching and I have a lot of faith in my coach.
“I have to train for very different events, from 100 up to 400.
“I have the 100 Paralympic title and that's something I want to retain.”
Pistorius was left out of the 4x400 final, progressing as far as the semi-finals of the individual 400 in Daegu, where the biggest talking point was Bolt’s disqualification from the 100m for a false start.
“The rule is fair, but it's not difficult to get disqualified,” maintained Pistorius.
“Every athlete gets disqualified at some point, at some level, so I do feel for Usain Bolt. I wanted to watch him run — everyone wanted to watch him run — and when he false started I was gobsmacked.
“Although this rule has only been in place for a short time, it has been in swimming and other sports for many years.
“There are reasons for the rule.
“In previous years there was a warning after a false start, but sometimes a more experienced athlete would false start on purpose so that the less experienced athletes would then possibly have slower reaction times. It was unfortunate that it happened at the highest level, but I've no doubt Usain will do many more amazing runs.
“I don't think the rule will change. I've been disqualified in the past and I've hated the rule on that day, but I un
derstand the bigger picture. Reaction times are part of sprinting. It's a difficult rule, but we have to adapt to it.”
Pistorius felt that the World Championship was a very valuable experience for him.
“I wanted to gain as much experience as possible from the World Championship and I did that,” he said.
“It was a fantastic opportunity and a great competition.
“I was disappointed (to be left out of the final) and I think I always will be. So it was bittersweet for me, but for the guys to win the silver medal was phenomenal.
“I was sad not to be a part of it, but when I was watching I was screaming for the guys,” said Pistorius, who admits to being his own harshest critic.
“It's strange, but even when I do well, I'm disappointed that I didn't do better.
“If I run a good race I say ‘that was great, but imagine if I'd gone a bit quicker, imagine if I'd dipped harder at the end.’
“I think sometimes I'm too critical of my performances.
“You have to go out there and attack and want to kill everyone. When you are in the 100 you have to want to just blow them away.”
And he intends to do just that at next year’s Olympics and Paralympics.
“There is so much excitement about London. It will be a phenomenal event, absolutely awesome,” he said.
“Competing in the last Paralympics and in this year's World Championship will make me more level-headed and help me cope with the stresses and pressures.
“There will be more pressure next year, but the lessons I have learned this year will definitely help me.
“I am looking forward to the challenge. I don't use a sports psychologist because if I can't look after myself then I'm in trouble.
“I believe you need to do it for yourself. No-one else is going to do the running for you,” added Pistorius, stressing that he aims to break records in the Paralympics and better his World Championship performances in the Olympics.
Pistorius is the most affable of interviewees — yet recently ended an interview with the BBC when angered by a question about the ethics of him being allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes despite having prosthetic legs.
The South African has a long laugh when the issue is mentioned.
“I have a good relationship with the BBC,” he said.
“They are such a big organisation they can't take responsibility for every small aspect.
“Unfortunately that was just one interview that went badly.
“I will always be open to explaining whatever a journalist asks of me, but if I feel that personally I am being nailed, I will stick up for myself.
“I don't hold anything against the BBC and I will do more interviews with them. I will not be boycotting them like Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Pistorius, who had his legs amputated aged 11 months because of a birth defect, continued: “I think in general we try to make life easier for people with disabilities and facilities more accessible.
“Some countries do this out of responsibility, but are still scared to educate about disability.
“If I am in a shopping centre and a kid is staring at my legs, the only reason he is doing that is because he doesn't know any better, he doesn't know why I have got prosthetic legs. He doesn't understand.
“Often parents will just tell their kid to stop staring, but if possible I will try to explain to that kid why I have got prosthetic legs. We need to educate.
“After all, everyone has a family member or a friend with a disability. It can happen to anyone.
“We can't shy away from that. We need to focus on ability, though, not disability. That's the right direction to go.”
And right now Oscar Pistorius is going full speed ahead towards London 2012.
l OSCAR Pistorius is a BT Ambassador. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Visit bt.com/london2012