Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius raced in a heat for the 400 meter sprint at the London Olympics Friday, making history and more – finishing second to move on to the semifinal Sunday.
Scientists might not yet be able to agree on whether Oscar Pistorius should be allowed to compete in the Olympics, but it is undeniable that when he did on Saturday morning, it became an indelible moment in history of the Games.
Pistorius is a controversial figure for reasons utterly beyond his control. He has no legs below either of his knees, so he races the only way he can – with the carbon-fiber blades that have made him instantly recognizable the world over. And on Saturday, for once, the controversy stepped aside for 400 meters as a gracious man who has only ever wanted to race as fast and as fairly as he could at last had that chance on sport's grandest stage.
Pistorius covered the distance in 45.44 seconds – a time good enough to meet his Olympic goal of qualifying for Sunday's semifinal. Overall, his time was 16th best on the day.
Almost certainly, he will not win a medal in the final Monday night. In all likelihood, he won't even make it that far. But no matter what you think of his Cheetah Flex-Feet, Pistorius makes is almost impossible not to like the man himself.
Between legal appeals to allow him to compete here and puke-inducing training sessions, "I've been working for six years to get here," he said. "I found myself smiling in the starting blocks, which is very unusual for the 400."
An hour after the race, and about 55 minutes after he began talking to the media, he was still smiling. "I've still got goosebumps," he said. And he thanked the assembled journalists, repeatedly – apparently because that's just what he does.
From fellow athletes who might be jealous of the attention he receives or doubtful of whether his times are mechanically aided, there is not an unkind word.