Oscar Pistorius-The Man, the Athlete

By Silvers, Kate | Palaestra, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Oscar Pistorius-The Man, the Athlete


Silvers, Kate, Palaestra


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Oscar Pistorius was born on November 22, 1986, without the fibula, the long, slender bone running along the outside of the leg from below the knee joint and down to the ankle, in each of his legs. His parents, Henk and Sheila, consulted with some of the leading doctors in the world. They were advised by doctors that having the amputation done before Oscar learned to walk would be less traumatic for him and would greatly improve his chances of mobility in later life. They made the heart-wrenching decision to have his legs amputated below the knee by South African orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Gerry Versveld. Six months later he received his first pair of prosthetic legs, and within days he had mastered them.

Supported and encouraged by his sports-mad family, Oscar lived an active life, leading him to become a keen sportsman during his school years. Whatever the sport, Oscar played it, with his main focus being waterpolo and rugby in secondary school. He also played cricket, tennis, took part in triathlons, Olympic club wrestling, and was an enthusiastic boxer.

In June, 2003, he shattered his knee playing rugby for Pretoria Boys High School and feared that his sporting career was over at the age of 16. On the advice of Dr. Versveld, Oscar took up running track to aid his rehabilitation. He began training under the guidance of coach Ampie Louw at the Sports Science Institute at the University of Pretoria (see Table 1).

Proud Paralympian

After a few months in the gym, Oscar took part in his first track session on New Year's Day, 2004. Three weeks later he entered a school 100 m race on the prompting of one of his teachers and won in a time of 11.72 s. After the race his father looked up how Oscar's time compared to the best in the world and discovered his 17-year-old son's time was faster than the existing Paralympic world record of 12.20 s (see Table 2).

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In June 2004, he was given his first pair of Ossur manufactured Flex-Foot Cheetahs. Eight months after first stepping onto the track, the South African created a sensation in the athletics world by winning the T44 200 m gold medal at the Athens Paralympics, breaking the world record with a time of 21.97 s. He also returned home with a bronze medal in the 100 m. Overnight he was propelled onto front and back pages around the world.

Oscar is a proud Paralympian and believes the Paralympic Games in London (2012) will be a high watermark for the Paralympic movement. Oscar has ambitions to continue to promote the Paralympic movement and educate and inspire people around the world about the Paralympic Games.

Bridging The Gap

Spurred on by his achievements at the Paralympic Games, Oscar set his sights on competing against able-bodied athletes. During the South African Championships in March, 2005, he finished sixth in the 400 m final. His performances continued to gain attention and headlines across the world. After he had won gold in the T44 100 m and 200 m distances at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England, he was invited by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to run in a Grand Prix meet in Helsinki, but was unable to attend due to school commitments.

It was at the IAAF Golden Gala event at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on July 13, 2007, that Pistorius first competed internationally against athletes without disabilities. In the 'B' race, he finished second across 400 m in a time of 46.90 s. His demonstrated prowess stirred-up controversy over whether or not his prostheses gave him an unfair performance advantage over fellow competitors without disabilities.

IAAF Ruling

In November, 2007, Oscar was invited to take part in a series of scientific tests at the Cologne Sports University under the guidance of Dr. Peter Bruggemann, Professor of Biomechanics, in conjunction with Mr. Elio Locatelli, who was responsible for all technical issues within the IAAF. …

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