Forget Andy Warhol. Fifteen minutes no longer matter – 9.63 seconds do.
Jamaican Usain Bolt’s historic victory caps an astonishing weekend for Olympic sports, which also saw British hero Andy Murray finally gain gold-medal-winning retribution against Roger Federer for last month’s defeat at Wimbledon.
Allow me to get patriotic for a moment. I am proud of Team GB and their jump in medal tally over the weekend (seven on Saturday, eight on Sunday) following a slow start in the first week. They have shown enormous pluck, among them Christine Ohuruogu, Chris Hoy and Jessica Ennis to name just a few, and of course, Murray’s win in the men’s singles tennis was out of this world. I am not surprised at others’ suggestions that the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award be cancelled in favour of a massive party so Team GB can know how brilliant they are.
But for me, Oscar Pistorius was my greatest hero. A representative of South Africa he may have been in the men’s 400m, but he was also the first double amputee to compete in an athletic event at the Olympic Games.
In that moment when Pistorius and his carbon-fibre blades self-consciously stepped out into the heaving stadium, he hit a far more significant milestone than Usain Bolt could ever hope to achieve that day.
People speak of taking pleasure in pain. I felt nervous for Pistorius as he fiddled with his prosthetic socks before the race started, and almost excruciating pain at the sight of him finishing last in the semi-final. Within that pain – I am sure Pistorius is as crushed as many of his fellow competitors at not making the final – I nevertheless took pleasure in the knowledge that he was beaten not by prejudice, but by runners who simply had better times.
That defeat wasn’t due to his disabilities either. Lest we forget, this was a bona-fide, Olympic semi-final, and Oscar Pistorius had to beat thousands of other international, elite athletes – many of whom had no impairments – to get there.
It certainly took a lot longer than 9.63 seconds. Pistorius had to fight in court for the right to compete on a par with his non-disabled peers. Those carbon-fibre blades had been dismissed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) as giving him “an unfair advantage” over the non-disabled athletes in 2007; once he’d managed to get that decision reversed in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, he then didn’t qualify for the South African team for the 2008 Olympics. How contrary can you get with that as evidence?
Pistorius had far more to overcome than his disabilities. (He’d achieved that a long time ago, having won gold in the men’s 100m, 200m and 400m at the 2008 Paralympics.) He also had to overcome attitudinal and institutional barriers in order to get into the Olympics this year, as well as competing athletes.
Yesterday, he competed in the 400m semi-final not as a man with no legs – but as a fellow sportsman and an equal. What we were seeing, on the face of it at least, was true inclusion in practice. That is why the participation of Oscar Pistorius, and other amputees before him (including Natalie du Toit and George Eyser, the first amputee ever to take part in the Olympics), is such a cornerstone for diversity in modern times – and I especially love that the historic inclusion of a double amputee happened right here on my home ground.
Thanks to Tom Shakespeare for pointing out previous inaccuracies in this post.