Oscar Pistorius Retrospective: 2009 Oscar Suffers Four Shock Short Course Sprint Losses

2009 Oscar Suffers Four Shock  Short Course Sprint Losses

( Against Plucky Blades Debutant (despite height and stride length advantage!)  

Note : Click on any of my  images for a larger view.


Background :-

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius runs tonight, 6th September  in the 2012 Paralympics 100 metres final and all the media hype is about the anticipated crunch match  with GB and current world record holder, single amputee Johnny Peacock and yet the wisdom is it could be  there for the taking and with no certainty as it’s too close to call. The 100 metres is not  now Oscar’s distance of choice because it has been  harder for him with double blades to make a quick enough getaway from the blocks and  takes him a short distance  to get up to top gear so he is sensibly cautious about his prospects of snatching gold. Oscar is above all, a born competitor and will as always give it his best shot and that’s a given. Both athletes are pure gold.  

Oscar  Pistorius became  the centre of controversy on the track at  the current Paralympics 2012 which saw a totally  uncharacteristic very public complaint from the big hearted runner when beaten into second place  over 200 metres an event he could reasonably expected to win. That incident is, for me,  the one lapse in humility, in the heat of the moment, in this great man’s remarkable athletics career where he has been constantly in the public  eye , has behaved impeccably and with endearing modesty and dignity at all times and he was soon issuing a genuinely remorseful apology.

Oscar never tires of meeting and interacting with adoring fans

If I recall correctly , eyebrows were raised once before  back in 2009 , this time  at an  indoor track, in Enfield  , North London, when the Republic of  South Africa’s globally celebrated disability ambassador, Paralympic double amputee and multiple world champion , aka “Blade Runner” ( a nickname he is not fond of ) ,  failed in all four sprints where the odds were clearly completely stacked in his favour. Worse  he was running against a relative novice is smaller blades.  On paper he should have strolled these controversial very short sprints despite his preference for longer distances and his opponent’s lack of experience.

The incident was not reported in great detail in the press but it was recorded in a short series of  unique photographs taken by the Daily Mail’s Chief sports Photographer , Andy Hooper although few people are aware that Andy took the shots most people immediately recognise the iconic images that record the event and in fact went viral.

On the day, Oscar’s  opponent was the youngest person ever to  be fitted with carbon fibre blades , at the age of five; they have to be replaced every two years  and that at a cost of around £10,000   Her family’s local community helped raised the funding.  The plucky lady ,  Ellie May Challis, was just eight years old when she lined up to race Oscar. She had her legs amputated ( and indeed her hands)  at just 16months old  as a result of meningitis whereas Oscar’s lower limbs were amputated below the knee at eleven months after he was born without tibias. Ellie was given standard prosthetics as a toddler but found them very difficult to walk on and was unhappy she couldn’t keep up with her twin Sophie. She was given legs which had a knee joint which helped but according to her mum couldn’t manage more than about 20 minutes with them.  It is not clear whether Ellie saw Oscar running , say on TV, and demanded similar faster  legs but  she now has much more freedom with the blades.

Anthony Hooper’s iconic image of Ellie and Oscar  can be viewed all over the net and appears here and  you can view it by following this link if you have not seen them already. (Not wishing to breach the photographer’s copyright, I have refrained from posting a version of the image out of professional courtesy)  OSCAR AND ELLIE RACE

Oscar gifting a teen fan his sunglasses at the 2009 Paralympic World Cup, Manchester , after taking gold

I have photographed Oscar in action on two separate occasions at two BT Parlaympic World Cups as they were hosted in Manchester. I have witnessed his grace towards other competitors, his endless patience signing autographs and chatting to avid fans and spectators, his willingness to pose with fans for photos engaging with the media long after his races had finished and his generosity to young fans . He seemed a very self assured young man, no arrogance whatsoever, always smiling , grateful to fans and all the support they give him. As example I personally witnessed, in Manchester at the World Cup,  a young teenager wanted to give Oscar his sun glasses, right in front of me.  Oscar was delighted but had to decline, apologetically, explaining he was contracted to Oakey. He then took off his designer sunglasses and gave them to the lad.  Although not strictly at the World Cups as  journalist- I had access privileges and chatted to him in the mixed zone near the media room as he waited , alone, on a seat outside doping control. He was so grounded, as always never stopped smiling, and very much at ease with himself. Asked about if he ever got tired of having to deal with media and fans he admitted he loved it and never got tired of it.

Being such a recognisable global sports celebrity must have its advantages and disadvantages the blades, a double edged sword. With the amputation an agonising  choice for his parents as an alternative to life in a wheelchair , their nurturing and his spirit meant that he never considered he had a disability and didn’t let the disadvantage stop him leading a full and active life growing up, doing things other kids did, and embracing sports and savouring competition. It should be remembered that he took up running following an injury during school rugby game with abled- bodied kids  and meeting Ampie Louw who became and remains his coach.

The media focus with so much of the  attention  on the dynamics off his prosthetics and controversy over   technological boundaries issues may well  detracts from the fact that Oscar is an exceptional athlete in his own right  and in fact the specifications of the blades have not changed. He has just worked endless hard, totally professional and focused,  to get fitter, stronger and work on his technique.

Ampie, Oscar’s Coach, at the 2010 Paralympics World Cup, Manchester.

His journey has been  a personal one but in a world where it is common for barriers to be accidentally or deliberately  put in a person’s way in addition to any disability,  that journey has become very public and  meant  having to challenge the system, challenge the falsehood that the blades are an advantage and challenge for the right to run in the Olympics as well as the Paralympics. You might  expect public preconceptions and some prejudice but not from governing bodies . ( He had of course previously run against abled bodied athletes and beaten many of them!)

It is difficult to label Oscar courageous without sounding patronising but courage is defined as  grace under pressure and in my experience he has that in spades .  But it is the courage to be yourself, have your own ethic and standards, your own goals and work to achieve those personal goals. This is not a man who has set himself up as a role model or a champion of disability rights but his journey has been very public, he is such a normal affable person that people from all walks of life and abilities look up to him.  For me Oscar is an outstanding athlete but like so many champion athletes in various fields I have photographed or actually know, he is an outstanding warm human being also.

Oscar in 400 metres action on the way to another gold 2010 Paralympic World Cup, Manchester

We will never know the personal details of Oscar’s encounter with little Ellie  that time or what was said between them, her parents or siblings but my guess is the big man was enchanted and inspired by her. His influence on her would be less tangible at that age but nothing better than seeing a very tall grown up wearing the same leg wear.

More images of Oscar I have taken at Paralympics World Cups can be  found here on my old website .


The company who make Oscar blades , Ossur, can be found by following this link.  Ossur

Check out Oscar’s professional athlete website here  Oscar Official website  Follow Oscar   here  Oscar’s Twitter

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One Response to “Oscar Pistorius Retrospective: 2009 Oscar Suffers Four Shock Short Course Sprint Losses”

  1. michounette says:

    What a lovely and perceptive article. You have written beautifully everything I thought about Oscar before the tragedy and everything I will always continue to think. Thank you for not deserting him in his darkest hour. He deserves all the support in the world and particularly from people such as yourself!

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