Byline: Martha Kelner
BEFORE he got his first pair of running blades, Richard Whitehead would strap leather cups to his stumps and run around Nottingham late at night, wary of the reaction people would have to a legless man.
Yesterday, he courted a crowd of 80,000, taking a bow on the start line before blowing away the competition in a new 200metre world record -- even doing a 'Chris Hoy-style' doublegun salute as he crossed the line.
In return, the crowd erupted in wild celebration, while Whitehead embraced his parents and pregnant girlfriend trackside.
'I know Chris Hoy does that celebration and I wanted to show that Olympic and Paralympic athletes are on the same platform now,' said Whitehead. 'I work my a**e off to be the best athlete I can be.' Whitehead is a congenital double above-the-knee amputee, meaning he was born without legs. He starts his races from a standing position and, as usual, was several yards down on the field as he approached the bend.
It was the memory of a friend who lost a leg to cancer before succumbing to the disease that W hit e -head said propelled him into the lead with 50m to go.
'My friend Simon Mellows, who died in 2005, was with me all the way,' said Whitehead.
'I played cricket with him, he was 6ft 7in and could hit the ball a mile. He convinced me I could win at this level, so I looked to the sky and told him, "That's it, I've done it now, it's over".' In a race where every athlete set a personal best, Whitehead proved his class by clocking 24.38sec, putting more than a second between himself and silver medallist Shaquille Vance of the United States. …