Oscar Pistorius from South Africa became the first double amputee to compete in the games by running the men's 400-meter race. He says that having the opportunity to represent his country in the Olympics "far surpassed" his expectations.
Oscar Pistorius of South Africa (or Blade Runner, as he is also called) ran in the men’s 400-meter race in London over the weekend, making history as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic games. And though Pistorius, 25, did not medal in his event, he told TODAY’s Savannah Gunthrie Monday that his experience in London had been “phenomenal.
“When I got on those starting blocks, I knew 400 is always a tough event. But I had these cramps in my cheeks, I was smiling so much. I was a mixture of butterflies and goosebumps.”
That smile lasted about half the race, until he started getting cramps “everywhere else.” But even though Pistorius came in seventh, he said, “Getting to that point, to be able to line up on the starting blocks at a race like that, just means so much to me.”
The Olympic games is an accomplishment for any athlete, but Pistorius had an especially hard road. He was born without fibulas (commonly known as the calf bone), and both his legs were amputated below the knee when he was still an infant. He had been fighting to compete with able-bodied athletes in the Olympics since before the 2008 games in Beijing. Though he qualified, the track’s governing body barred him from running, citing his blades, known as Cheetahs, as a competitive advantage.
Though that decision was ultimately struck down, it wasn't in time for him to compete in Beijing, so Pistorius set his sights on the London Olympics.
His family joined him in London, the first time they were able to see him since he left South Africa in May to start the competitive racing season. And though there were supportive, Pistorius called his family’s approach to his competition “blasé.
"They’re just like, 'Oh dude cool run, you know you looked good,' or whatever. They don’t really care so much about my athletic performances as long as I’m happy and trying and doing my best.”
The Blade Runner's 89-year-old grandmother was also in attendance. “When I got chosen for the team, she phoned me and said there’s no way she’s going to miss it for the world. She came up, she had her pacemaker ordered and was in the crowd with her flag and her tears and everything.”
But Pistorius's family weren't the only ones rooting for him. After the race, fellow competitor Kirani James of Grenada turned to Pistorius, hugged him, and then asked to exchange name bibs, a poignant gesture of respect.
Pistorius had come in at 46.54 seconds, .95 of a second behind James, the winner. James said of Pistorius, “He’s very special to our sport. He’s a great individual - it’s time we see him like that and not anything else.”
Pistorius called James a “phenomenal competitor” and said that trading the name bibs was “what the Olympic spirit is all about.”
Pistorius will be a spectator himself when he watches the final race Monday night, and he said that he doesn’t know who he’ll root for. “These are the guys I look up to for inspiration and try to chase every year, and I won’t know who to shout for. There’s just so many true gentleman on and off the field of play.”
Many spectators around the world have called Pistorius a groundbreaking Olympian, and one of the most inspirational stories of the games. But the runner said he isn't different from any other competitor in London.
"I think every athlete that’s just out here for the Olympics just does something to inspire those around them and inspire each other."
So what was the best moment of his race? Pistorius said that it was coming down the home stretch and "hearing the roar of the crowd and knowing that there were so many people behind me just made it that much more enjoyable, and will definitely be one of the memories I’ll really cherish for the rest of my life."