Oscar Pistorius Sweeps Sprint Events at Paralympics

He was once barred from competing in the recent Summer Olympics because international athletics officials deemed his high-tech prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage against able-bodied runners.

Oscar Pistorius took the gold today in the 400 meters at the Paralympics in the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing, wrapping up a triple event sweep of the short distances in the worldwide track meet for persons with disabilities. According to an account from the Associated Press, Pistorius finished first in the 400 with a time of 47.49 seconds, a world record for his disability class.

The win matched similar performances in the 100- and 200-meter events, giving the South African double-amputee three gold medals in Beijing to go along with a gold he earned in the 200 at the Athens Paralympics in 2004.

Dubbed "The Blade Runner" by the media, Pistorius was born without fibulas in his lower legs and had both limbs amputated in early childhood. As a young man, he took an interest in soccer after being fitted with prostheses. This led to a passion for running and an historic collaboration with one of the world's top prosthetic design firms, Ossur of Reykjavik, Iceland, which built customized carbon-fiber prosthetic legs for him.

The early chapters of the Pistorius story have been chronicled here at IEEE Spectrum over the last three years. European journalist Marlowe Hood introduced us to the "fastest man on no legs" in November 2005 in an online feature called Born to Run. From time to time since then, we've updated the progress of Pistorius in his quest to graduate from a competitor in the Paralympics to one in the Olympics and other world-class track meets open to all comers.

(For example, see our blog entries Officials Question Amputee Sprinter's Tech Legs and Double Amputee Oscar Pistorius Can Try for Olympics on the controversy over Pistorius's carbon-fiber racing prostheses.)

Although Pistorius was eventually cleared to compete for a spot on the South African team at the Beijing Games, he faced a challenge of meeting a minimum qualification time of 45.55 seconds in the 400. He could only muster a competitive 46.25 run against able-bodied runners from his country. That left the Paralympics as his only recourse this year.

Still, Pistorius has his sites already set on the next Olympics to be held in London in 2012, as well as upcoming international meets. For that, he will have to build on the momentum he's achieved up till now to become even faster, a challenge that he said today will require "a lot of work."

"I have five or six able-bodied meets in Europe next year and those are all stepping stones to get to the bigger meets," Pistorius noted. "I'm looking forward to next year's calendar and [the] next four years."

We're looking forward to seeing how he overcomes the latest hurdles in a race to achieve his dream.


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