By JONATHAN MCEVOY
Jonnie Peacock, Britain’s own Blade Runner, has already shaken Oscar Pistorius’s cage. It was on a mountainside near Christchurch, New Zealand, during the Paralympic World Championships there in January.
‘Oscar saw the rust around the cable car and he didn’t really like being on it,’ says Peacock. ‘I was shaking the car. He wanted me to stop. He said, “If you think I’m a good runner, you should see what a good boxer I am”.’
The two men are likely to meet in the 100metres (T44) at the Paralympics in London. The arithmetic says that Pistorius will be out of reach: his world record (shared with America’s Marlon Shirley) of 10.91sec contrasts with Peacock’s best of 11.47.
It is Pistorius, the South African phenomenon, who features on British billboards. He who hopes to make history by running against able-bodied athletes at next summer’s Olympics.
And he who will write a column for Sportsmail.
So Peacock might as well forget challenging at the front? That depends. At 18, he is seven years younger than Pistorius and has scope to improve dramatically after recently moving from his hometown of Cambridge to train full time in London under UK Athletics’ respected coach Dan Pfaff.
Whatever 2012 brings, Peacock’s story is an inspiring one. He had his right leg amputated below the knee when he contracted meningitis at the age of five. ‘I don’t remember anything about the period except my mum driving me to the hospital,’ he says.
‘I was in my Power Rangers duvet and she was speeding through a few red lights to get me there. They say people can block out bad episodes they don’t want to remember, or perhaps I was just too young to remember it all.’
Some scars from the blood poison that ate away at his skin remain, mostly on his lower body.
‘What I do remember is going to school afterwards in a wheelchair,’ he says.
‘I didn’t play outside with the other kids. I picked girls to stay in with me at lunchtimes. It is also when I got to know Martin, who is still my best friend. Perhaps he didn’t have any friends at the time and thought he’d befriend the disabled kid.’
He smiles, meeting his misfortune with equilibrium. He also recalls a hopping race his mother, Linda, asked the school to stage on sports day. Young Peacock pulled off his prosthetic leg and bounced to victory by 20 metres. Parents and teachers were moved to tears.
During those early years, he played football and rugby, stuck-in-the-mud and kiss-chase without a problem. ‘But then the mental side of it hit me when I was 13,’ he says. ‘I walked home and it should have taken 20-30 minutes. I was in pain and it could take me two or three hours. I would get very worked up.
‘I thought, “Why me?” a lot. “Girls won’t find me attractive”. It was a dark period for some months. I wondered what it would be like to have two legs. But when I was 14-15 I started going out with a girl called Deenie and that helped me so much.
‘There was some bullying until I got older. They had names for me like Peg Leg and Long John Silver, but only about three or four names — those guys weren’t the cleverest.’
Peacock’s route into athletics opened up when he attended a talent identification day at Mile End, east London, at the end of 2008. He did the 60m sprint, pistol shooting and wheelchair tennis, using his ordinary prosthetic leg rather than the blade in which he now competes.
His performance as a runner led to him being set up by the British Paralympic Association and UK Athletics with coaching at Cambridge University’s athletics track. His times tumbled.
At Christchurch, when he wasn’t winding up Pistorius, he finished fifth in 11.63, a fine result in his first major competition. Despite injury, he improved through last year, raising hopes that he could win a medal at the London Paralympics, not just in Rio four years later.
Now living in Southgate, a 50-minute journey to UK Athletics’ base in Lee Valley, he trains and recovers more professionally. His weights sessions are now six times a week rather than once or twice.
Only last week a scan, organised at the click of a finger, immediately indicated he should rest his knee whereas before he would have ploughed on through the pain unsure of what exactly was wrong.
Can he emulate Pistorius by competing in the Olympics, say in Rio? ‘A bit far-fetched,’ says Peacock, a BT Ambassador, pointing out that he is unlikely to be able to match the explosive power of the fastest men in the world over 100m and that he, unlike Pistorius, is not equipped for 400m.
‘Oscar is such a brilliant guy and is running such great times,’ adds Peacock. ‘He can run the best times he’s ever run next year. I hope so because he has brought so much to Paralympic sport. Even people who do not know much about the Paralympics know him.
‘Everything he does is a plus for us. I’d love to have his status in the world. It takes a lot of work.’Tags: blade runner, Jonnie Peacock, London Paralympics, meningitis, Olympics, Oscar Pistorius, Power Rangers, prosthetic leg, wheelchair tennis