Of the many superstars created by the 2012 Olympics, there will be none like Oscar Pistorius.
None will have faced the sporting, legal and physical challenges that he has overcome to get to London; few could have made his journey with the everyman charm and humour that he has so frequently shown.
Long before last week’s opening ceremony, it was clear that Pistorius would be one of the great victors of these games, even though he’s unlikely to reach the medal podium. South Africa’s
‘Blade Runner’, so-called because of his carbon fibre blades, has ‘won’ by simply being there.
He will make history when he competes in the 400 metres this weekend after a four-year battle to become the Olympics’ first double amputee runner.
Pistorius was born without a fibular - the long bone which runs from the knee to the ankle. Both of his legs were amputated at 11 months old.
As a young boy he began to specialise in athletics when he discovered that the rough and tumble of schoolboy rugby did too much damage to his prosthetic legs. His potential was immediately clear. In a high school race, he ran the 100 metres faster than the Paralympic record. Soon he was winning medals, including gold in the 200 metres at the Athens Paralympics in 2004.
Four years later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed him to compete against the best able-bodied athletes at the Olympics. Some athletes objected to the decision, believing that his cheetah-like limbs give him an unfair advantage.
But despite his opponents, Pistorius has certainly won over his country. At home in South Africa, his dedication and good looks have turned him into the country’s answer to David Beckham. He is just as likely to be seen on the front of South Africa’s fashion magazines as he is the sports supplements. In 2011 the local edition of ‘GQ’ named him ‘Man of the Year’.
Companies like BT, Nike and Oakley raced to sign sponsorship deals. Of course, the marketing men will have noted that his triumph-against-adversity back-story propels him into a league of sporting celebrity that consists of just one member.
Yet, for all the attention, he is a rare thing: a humble sporting star. He won’t mind if you stop him in the street and ask to have your picture taken together. He likes to talk, he likes to joke and he certainly likes to smile too.
He will race this Saturday having won many hearts, but with some athletes unconvinced of his right to be there.
He will, however, have his country behind him. If he comes close to success, they will be screaming his name. And it he fails in the first round, they will be cheering nonetheless. Victory is already his, whatever the result.