Oscar Pistorius is preparing for both London Olympics and Paralympics
The "Blade Runner" competes at the top level against able-bodied athletes
South African has four Paralympic golds and several world records
The 25-year-old runs on specially-adapted carbon-fiber artificial limbs
He has yet to compete at the Olympics, but the eyes of the world will be on Oscar Pistorius if he is selected for London 2012.
Born with a congenital abnormality, he had both his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months of age, but that has not stopped him competing at the highest level.
The South African runs on specially-adapted carbon-fiber artificial limbs, earning him the nickname “Blade Runner” and the tag of “fastest man with no legs.”
After winning a legal battle to let him race against able-bodied athletes, the 25-year-old has become one of the most recognizable and popular figures in the world of sport thanks to his inspiring performances on the track.
Pistorius certainly is fast, holding the world records in his T44 disability category from 100 to 400 meters, and he has won four Paralympic gold medals.
His times enable him to compete internationally against able-bodied runners, and he reached the 400m semifinals at the 2011 world championships in Daegu.
He also helped South Africa to the final of the 4x400m relay but was controversially omitted for the medal race. His teammates took silver and – because he ran in the earlier rounds – Pistorius was awarded a medal, becoming the first disabled athlete to achieve that feat at a global championships.
Pistorius came from what he describes as a “sports-crazy family, pretty much obsessed with sport” and did not allow his disability to restrict his activities.
Event: 100, 200, 400 meters
Born: Johannesburg, South Africa
Honors: 4-time Paralympic gold medalist
- World record-holder 100-400 T44 class
- Silver medal in South Africa's 4x400m relay squad at 2011 world championships
Olympic appearances: 0
Daily routine: Up at 5 a.m. and trains three and a half hours each day
Favorite music: Coldplay
How do you relax?: Spending time with family and friends
Hobbies: Painting and drawing, riding my motorbike
At school in Gauteng Province, he was a keen rugby player and also competed in a wide range of sports from water polo to tennis and even triathlons.
A knee injury curtailed his rugby career and he turned to track and field in 2003, quickly discovering a real talent for sprinting.
Just a year later and still only 17, Pistorius won gold over 200m at the 2004 Athens Paralympics in a world record and also took bronze in the 100m, beating athletes with lesser disabilities.
Using the Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon-fiber limbs, specially adapted by Icelandic company Ossur, it was the start of his journey to global stardom.
Pistorius began to compete in able-bodied competitions, at first in South Africa, but then abroad.
“I was starting to run times which allowed me to compete internationally on the able-bodied circuit,” he said.
But as he got quicker, it brought Pistorius into dispute with the IAAF, the world governing body of athletics, which ruled his artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage and barred him from the circuit.
Employing a top legal team, Pistorius took his case to the Court of Arbitration in Sport, which overturned the ban in 2008. However, he did not reach the Olympic qualifying standards for Beijing, where he took part in the Paralympics.
“Since it was proved my prosthetic legs give me no advantage, I have developed a very good relationship with the IAAF,” he said.
Pistorius’ success is not only down to his talent, it owes much to a grueling training regime under coach Ampie Louw.
Getting up at 5 a.m. at their base in Pretoria, Pistorius puts in up to three and a half hours each day, on occasion more, in preparation for a major championship.
He also has a strictly-controlled diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, plus plenty of fish and protein to aid recovery.
Pistorius reports “no injuries” coming into the all important year of 2012.
Pistorius has been an inspirational figure around the world with his exploits, while his own sporting heroes both come from track and field: Britain’s former 110m world record-holder Colin Jackson and Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks.
Jackson has become a “great friend and mentor” for Pistorius, who has made many trips to the UK in recent years.
“Frankie Fredericks has always been my icon, and someone who has achieved as much as he has is special,” he said of the former world champion and four-time Olympic silver medalist.
Pistorius aims to run at both the 2012 London Olympics and the subsequent Paralympics in the British capital.
He is targeting four gold medals in the Paralympics, repeating his Beijing triple in the 100, 200 and 400m, and hopefully earning success in the South African 4x100m relay team.
And in the Olympic Games? “To try to repeat my achievement in Daegu to reach the semifinals of the individual 400m.”
Having already achieved the qualifying standard with a time of 45.20 seconds in Gauteng earlier this year, Pistorius is well on the way to achieving selection and will also be pressing for a place again in the South Africa’s 4x400m relay squad.
Pistorius sets himself high standards, retaining values that were instilled in him from an early age: “My family always said if you start something, you finish it.”
With so much already achieved it is easy to forget he has many years of competition potentially ahead of him, but when Pistorius does eventually retire he wants to have left nothing on the track.
“To look back and know every season I did my best. That I gave it my best with no regrets.”