Paralympic Games
29 August - 9 September

No. 7: Pistorius’ summer of glory

Oscar Pistorius became a household name worldwide after competing in both the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. 25 Dec 2012

Find out which other stories made it into the Top 50 Paralympic Moments of 2012.

In 2012, Oscar Pistorius arguably cemented his postion as the most well-known Paralympian of all-time.

The 26-year-old South African blade runner competed in the year’s two biggest sporting events – the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – and could not have asked for better exposure for athletes with an impairment on the world’s stage.

He became the first double-leg amputee to qualify for the Olympics, where he made the 400m semi-finals and the 4x400m relay final with South Africa’s squad.

At the Paralympics, he won golds in the 400m T44 and 4x100m T42-26 relay, and took silver in the 200m T44.

Pistorius appeared across media outlets worldwide during the summer, covering the front pages of Men’s Health, GQ and the New York Times magazines, in addition to headlining hundreds of newspapers and stealing the spotlight of numerous global sports broadcasts.

But, most importantly, with his participation in both Games, he caught the attention of millions of people across the globe, redefining impairment even in countries where the Paralympic Movement is not so prominent.

“London 2012 was an experience that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life,” Pistorius said. “It was absolutely phenomenal.

“There may have been 70,000 people in that stadium, but to me it felt like 170,000. The noise every day and the support from the fans, the media, and my friends and family was incredible. It truly was one of the best experiences of my life.”

‘Greatest feel-good story of the Games’

After competing at the 2011 IAAF World Championships and attaining the Olympic “A” standard qualification mark in the 400m, Pistorius was named to South Africa’s Olympic team on 4 July.

His life changed that day, but with it came a physically tough challenge that would end up including 11 races in London's Olympic Stadium between the Olympics and Paralympics.

The first time Pistorius set foot on the starting blocks in the Olympic Stadium, he became so wrapped up the crowd’s electric reaction for him that he had to give himself a pep talk to refocus.

“On my way into the stadium I heard this whistle,” Pistorius said. “I knew that whistle. I looked over and saw my coach Ampie in the stands. Next to him was my 89-year-old grandmother and brother and sister. In that moment, I knew everything would be ok.

“Although it was so loud you could still hear individual voices calling out your name. I had many times during the Games when I just had to block out that noise and focus, get my head in to my race pattern and do what I went there to do.”

Pistorius ran an impressive 45.44 in his 400m Olympic heat but then finished a disappointing 46.54 in the semi-final. Despite not qualifying for the final, Pistorius still had a smile on his face at the finish line, and race winner Kirani James of Grenada insisted on swapping name tags with him afterwards.

He and and his Olympic teammates moved on to the 4x400m relay final without even finishing their heat due to a collision they protested and won in the heat. The South Africans finished in eighth place in the final.

For someone who did not win an Olympic medal, Pistorius received unheralded attention in the press and became a worldwide inspiration in a matter of days.

ESPN reporter Jim Caple, who has covered nine Olympics, wrote: “Medal or not, the most important thing is that he is running and proving to the world that anything is possible, even running in the Olympics without legs. Pistorius is the greatest feel-good story of the Games. Watching him soar around the track is inspiring.”

Members of the British media expressed how Pistorius’ story illuminated Paralympians no longer needed able-bodied athletes to help play up the Paralympic brand, and that it was now powerful enough to stand on its own.

The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdwal wrote: “Pistorius' body has become something of an uber-branded battleground over what ‘disability’ actually means. But controversy aside, one thing seems clear: he is good for business. The fact that such a diverse range of brands are confident the blade runner has such mainstream appeal is tantamount to a new realisation by marketers that, hey, Paralympians sell.”

London 2012’s household name

As soon as the Olympics ended, Pistorius flew south to Italy, and it was immediately back to the track to train.

“It was difficult to do because when other athletes had finished competing at the Olympics they could go out and celebrate, whereas I wasn’t really able to do that,” Pistorius said.

“That training and rest was necessary, though, and got me to where I needed to be for the Paralympics.”

Pistorius went on to create some of the most memorable moments at the Paralympics, winning the 4x400m T42-46 in a new world-record time of 41.78 after being dealt a surprise defeat by Brazil’s Alan Oliveira in the 200m T44.

It was not until the final evening of London 2012 that Pistorius won his first individual gold of the summer, setting a new Paralympic record with a time of 46.68 in the 400m T44 final.

“To have made an Olympic final, made an individual semi-final, set some of my fastest ever times and won three Paralympic medals including two golds and two world records was fantastic for me," Pistorius said.

“If I had to pick one (favourite) moment, it would be when I crossed the line in the 400m final. I remember the atmosphere and the crowd being so supportive, and the sheer relief I felt, it was the perfect end to my Games.”

Following London 2012, Pistorius took a couple weeks off for vacation and an American media tour - appearing on chat shows with Larry King and Jay Leno - before before getting back to his normal training schedule.

Pistorius said the last few months his friends have had a habit of putting up particularly embarrassing press cuttings and photos on his fridge, and that now, everybody is asking what comes next.

“I would love to compete in Rio in 2016,” Pistorius said.

“It seems like a long time away, though, and we’ve got a long way to go until we get there, but it’s definitely a target of mine.”

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