Pistorius to run again - this time at Paralympics
The Olympic rings have disappeared across London, and the Paralympic symbols hoisted in their place. Let the games begin - again.
Thousands of athletes have already arrived for Wednesday’s opening ceremony as the Paralympics return to their roots.
The familiar face of Oscar Pistorius and his even more recognisable blades have helped to take the Paralympic movement to the masses — with 2.3 million tickets already sold.
August has been a groundbreaking month for Pistorius.
The South African will be defending the three titles won four years ago at the Beijing Paralympics, just weeks after becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics.
“I am incredibly excited to be back in London,” said Pistorius, who raced in the 400 metres and 4x400 relay earlier this month in the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium. “It was an incredible experience to compete at the Olympic Games and the reception from the crowd I will remember for the rest of my life.”
The 25-year-old Pistorius had to contend with battles on and off the track to become the poster boy of the Paralympics, where he will be competing over 100, 200 and 400.
“He is massive,” London organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe said. “In Trafalgar Square this time last year for International Paralympic Day, (there was) a queue of kids who were screaming his name out and wanting autographs.”
But Coe stressed that the medals “are not nailed on for him” at the Paralympics.
“Sport is at its best when you have head to heads,” he added.
The thrilling duel should come in the 100, with Pistorius no longer the fastest man on no legs.
The “Blade Runner” experienced his first defeat in Paralympic competition in seven years when Jerome Singleton of the United States beat him by 0.002 seconds to win the 100 world title last year, while Jonnie Peacock of Britain has the world record.
“The 100m will be the most competitive 100m race I believe we will have ever seen at the games,” Pistorius said.
“I am very well aware of the competition that’s out there and I’ve never been one to be too self-assured or too brash,” he added. ”I’m comfortable with where I am, as far as my speed work goes on the 100m but I’m very well aware that the other guys are posting quick times.”
Pistorius has helped shine the spotlight on the Paralympics more than ever before.
“The Paralympic movement has come of age,” International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven said. “Having a sellout is amazing. A sellout prior to the games starting is unheard of ... it makes you feel good as an athlete.”
Many of the 4,200 athletes from 165 countries will parade in the opening ceremony that will celebrate the visionary doctor who conceived the Paralympics.
Ludwig Guttmann used sport in the rehabilitation of servicemen injured in World War II, and organised a hospital games at the time of the 1948 London Olympics that evolved from 1960 into the Paralympics.
“Without sounding too nationalistic or even jingoistic about it, it was created here in ’48, we drove all the early stages of the movement,” Coe said. “A lot of us do feel they are coming home.”
And it’s a chance to raise the profile further.
“This really is an opportunity to change attitudes and confront some of the misconceptions that are still out there about disability,” Coe said.
That’s achieved by creating one festival of sport in the summer in London, with the Paralympics the second element, sharing the same “London 2012” logo.
“We have never treated it as an after show and I think Beijing was a great example of it never being an after show,” Craven said.
But for all Craven talks about infusing “equal splendour” between the Olympics and Paralympics, there is frustration at the lack of parity with television coverage.
In the US, NBC will air only 5 1-2 hours of Paralympic programming - none of it live — with the bulk of the highlights appearing on its cable sports channel.
“It’s particularly a disappointment when I look at it from the view of the American public, they will have a great team over here,” Craven said.
“It just shows the USA isn’t (always) right at the forefront of new things and new ideas ... we know the American public is ready for Paralympic sport.”
But there will be widespread live coverage in Brazil, China, Britain and Australia.
“Countries learn over time, they get to know the Paralympics, they don’t think it’s much to begin with and once they see it they can’t get enough of it,” Craven said.