The fall of an icon: Oscar was as big as Bolt

Having a disability and running against Olympic athletes made Oscar Pistorius as big as Usain Bolt, writes Daniel Mothowagae.

Oscar Pistorius was as big as Usain Bolt in terms of the attention he commanded whenever the man known as the Blade Runner lined up on the track.

I had the privilege to cover the two global meetings where Pistorius changed the face of modern-day athletics – his able-bodied debut at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011 and the Olympic Games in London last year.

Behind the character running on J-shaped prosthetic fibre blades has always been a humble, ever-smiling professional – a journalist’s dream.

He is well-spoken. You would think he was reading from a prepared script.

“I am truly blessed” was his favourite line, as well as “pretty” and the constant mention of God.

Pistorius’ PR team always made their client accessible each time I requested an interview, regardless of where he was in the world.

In Daegu, Pistorius became the focal point after Bolt was disqualified for a false start a few days earlier.

The world was waiting for the epoch-making moment as Pistorius became the first amputee to compete with able-bodied athletes.

“This is a goal I’ve had for many, many years. I am truly blessed,” said the Blade Runner on August 28, 2011.

I recall one day when he sought my shoulder to regain his balance as he was about to be interviewed in the mixed zone at Daegu.

“Sorry man, I can’t balance pretty well on these (blades).”

It was on a humid South Korean summer evening when Pistorius’ blades ate the blue track of Daegu Stadium in a sprint that also gave the 4x400m relay team an ideal kick, en route to South Africa clocking a national record 2:59.21 during the heats – and a place in the final.

He ran the opening leg that set the pace for Ofentse Mogawane, Willie de Beer and Shane Victor to complete the race in less than three minutes.

Despite his contribution, Pistorius was left out of the final team, but he received the silver medal. He was “pretty gutted”, he wrote on Twitter.

The world media, myself included, were disappointed at his exclusion, yet Pistorius did not throw his toys out of the cot, judging by the tone of his Twitter post: “God blessed me! Semifinals in the 400m and a national record in the 4x400m! Thank u!”

The next stage was the Olympic Stadium in London.

At a packed pre-Games press conference at Olympic Park, Pistorius – with his trademark smile – yet again attributed his moment to God.

While the world embraced his blades in the UK, his inclusion in the 400m at the Games was a subject of fierce debate among some athletes, who felt hard done by back home.

They had a point: Pistorius only attained a B-standard to qualify for the one-lap race, which did not meet the criterion set by Sascoc.

But his place in the 4x400m relay team was justified by the fact that he ran the fastest time on the domestic front in the lead-up to the Olympics.

On Tuesday, Pistorius posted a picture of him and Grenada quartermiler Kirani James exchanging race numbers, accompanied by a caption: “Still one of my fondest memories of the Olympics...”

James told me after the race: “It takes a lot of courage for him to race here and compete.

He’s a God-fearing guy and it’s an honour to be competing with him.”

I once covered an event where young kids were the recipients of blades similar to those Pistorius used.

He was due to launch a foundation in July, where he was to “give at least 10 kids mobility”, he tweeted on Tuesday. His Twitter avatar shows him and a toddler in fibre blades.

This was the man the world knew before Thursday’s tragedy.

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