x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pistorious out to overcome the Berlin wall

Oscar Pistorius does not tend to dwell on life's negatives. As he puts it, "I could be walking across the road tomorrow and "bam" it could be all over, so you have to enjoy what you've got."

Oscar Pistorius celebrates after winning gold in the men's 400 metres at the Beijing Paralympic Games.
Oscar Pistorius celebrates after winning gold in the men's 400 metres at the Beijing Paralympic Games.

Oscar Pistorius does not tend to dwell on life's negatives. As South Africa's "Blade Runner" puts it, "I could be walking across the road tomorrow and "bam" it could be all over, so you have to enjoy what you've got." Pistorius's "bam" philosophy almost became a reality on a boating trip in February near his home in Johannesburg. The 22-year-old, the world's leading paralympic sprinter, was relaxing on a friend's boat when it hit a submerged jetty.

Pistorius, who was sitting at the steering wheel, smashed an eye socket, broke his nose, jaw and two ribs and was bleeding heavily. "We were cruising along the river just happy to be on the water," he recalled. "My friend went through the windscreen of the boat and I hit the steering wheel. You would have thought he would come off worse but he had a couple of scratches. "I, on the other hand, was in a pretty bad state - put it this way, it hurt a lot. I'm not embarrassed to admit I was afraid - it was scary stuff - and I was lucky my friend was a strong swimmer as he took me to the shore and got help. Who knows what might have happened."

Pistorius ended up in hospital, and is still is not completely over his injuries. He still lacks feeling in parts of his nose and lip, and doctors have warned it may not return. But Pistorius was grateful to have come away from the accident relatively unscathed. "If you look at me now all you see is a bit of a scar on my nose," he said, "but it wasn't a lot of fun. It's not put me off boating, although it's made me a lot more cautious.

"It's made me realise what's important in life and that some of the things I've been doing as a youngster I need to cut back on." For starters, he has locked up his motorbikes. But despite depriving himself of some daredevil hobbies he insists he is "still enjoying life to the full". Pistorius's positive outlook is infectious. The sprinter, who won triple gold at the Paralympics in Beijing last year, could be forgiven if he was bitter at some of the breaks life has thrown at him.

He was born without fibula in both legs, which resulted in doctors making the decision to amputate below the knees before his first birthday. He describes the operation as "the making of me", claiming it gave him "the energy, drive and desire that makes me the person I am today". At school, he refused to let the disability hold him back, pursuing his first sporting passion of rugby with the help of prosthetic limbs.

However, an injury cut short his rugby career, after which he reluctantly switched to athletics, pushed into sprinting by a coach at school. The rest is history, and Pistorius, with his J-shaped Cheetah Flex Foot legs, has become one of paralympics' greatest stars. He returned to competition for the first time since his boating accident at last month's BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England, where he proved to everyone that his brush with disaster hasn't done him too much harm. Everyone but himself, that is. After winning the 400metres in the championship record time of 50.28secs, he promptly dismissed his achievement. "Let's be honest, it was shocking," he said. "It was the worst time I've run in about three and a half years. But I know I wasn't running hard and I know I can run better."

He also won the 100, in the not-too-shabby time of 11.13secs, beating his great rival Jerome Singleton - the silver medallist at the Beijing Paralympics - with a late surge after the American had been first out of the blocks. Pistorius's biggest challenge, though, is just around the corner - proving he can compete with the world's best able-bodied sprinters. His goal is to qualify to represent South Africa in the 400m at the World Championships in Berlin in August.

His best time in the event is 46.25, and if he can get that down to just 45.95 it would earn him selection for the South African team. Pistorius has been invited to a series of big meets, including the Golden League Bislett Games in Oslo in July, in his quest to trim those crucial fractions. As for whether he can do it, he is not 100 per cent sure. "I'm behind schedule in training but things have gone well and there's plenty of time," he said. "The boating accident might have been a setback but that's not changed the goal and that is to make it to Berlin, and I think that's possible."

Pistorius's stubborn streak is why he is able to even consider travelling to Germany for the worlds. Last year, he was banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from competing at the Beijing Olympics after they deemed his carbon-flex legs gave him an unfair advantage. He gathered together a team of biomechanics to prove them wrong, and his challenge was eventually successful in the courts.

In the end, Pistorius failed to achieve the qualifying time for the 400m and was not chosen for South Africa's relay team. He admits it was a disappointment but, in true Pistorius fashion, he refuses to dwell on it. "I was disappointed to miss out but the Paralympics made up for it," he said. "That was great. And I'm young enough to still dream about the Olympics and, in particular, London in three years' time.

"That's still the ultimate for me and everything's working towards getting there, and I believe I will get there." To help turn that dream into a reality, Pistorius has already been taking tips from the fastest man in the world, Jamaica's triple Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt. "The guy's unbelievable," he said. "When I see him run, it's just like 'wow'. Sure he's a bit of an inspiration and he's raised the bar for every sprinter out there. He's given me a couple of tips and you tend to listen to advice from someone like that."

Pistorius, like Bolt, has dominated his events, but, despite being streets ahead of the competition, he remains determined to raise the bar still further. "I guess the ultimate competition is against yourself. You just want to get quicker and quicker and quicker." Can he become quick enough for Berlin? "I sure hope so," said Pistorius. mmajendie@thenational.ae