Oscar Pistorius did not win an Olympic medal, but he is a true hero of Olympian proportions. The first person ever to compete in the regular Olympics with carbon-fiber prosthetics for legs, Pistorius made history when he charged from the starting blocks in the 400 meter qualifying round. While he lost in the semi-final race, his real achievement comes in the way he shattered stereotypes, rules, perceptions and prejudices about disabilities and sports. As I watched his remarkable performance in the qualifying run, I found myself cringing at the NBC announcer’s use of the phrase “able-bodied” to describe the other racers — Pistorious is “able-bodied” in almost every way, he just has legs that are made of steel. Accepting the protheses as normal, not marks of “disability,” is part of the shattering of myths, fears and insidious stereotypes that foster discrimination.
Yes, controversies do rage in some quarters about whether the steel blades actually give Pistorious an unfair advantage, somehow enabling him to propel himself faster than other mortals. Let the debates rage, and let the runners run! And as one commentator noted, the most important muscle in running (as in most sports) is the heart.
Watching Pistorious reminded me of my friend Tatyana McFadden, a truly remarkable young woman who will compete in her third Paralympic Games in London in wheelchair racing. She has won numerous Paralympic medals in Athens and Beijing, and is a decorated champion in other major meets. Born with spina bifida in St. Petersburg, adopted from a Russian orphanage by her mother Debbie McFadden who is a disabilities rights advocate, Tatyana has been a force for improving opportunities for athletes with disabilities to gain full acceptance in sports.
Good luck to Tatyana as she prepares for her races in London!
So many great stories of heroism, inspiration and excellence are coming out of the London games. Gabby Douglas, swimming gold medalist Katie Ledecky of Stone Ridge Academy, so many other young women and men who have devoted years of their lives to the disciplines of the sports they embrace, most of them far from the limelight and headlines, many of them unlikely to have headlines again beyond this week or month. But for one shining moment in the middle of the summer, we can forget about the ugly side of sports — the awful scandal of Penn State, the whiffs of scandal around steroids and baseball, the excesses of spending and arrogance in professional football — forget all of that for the moment while enjoying the essence of sport displayed in the Olympics — athleticism, discipline, high physical perfection, intense competition and good sportsmanship.
Yes, even beach volleyball.
Yes, of course, Michael Phelps heavily laden with the medals of history.
Yes, even for just 9.63 seconds as Usain Bolt flashes down the track.
We needed the Olympics right now, and the Olympics have not disappointed.