By Matt McGeehan, Press Association Sport
Fate conspired against ‘the fastest man with no legs’ this year, with a near-fatal boat crash and a spell behind bars book-ending a summer that fell short of expectations.
Double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, a four-time Paralympic champion, had a prolonged battle with the International Amateur Athletics Federation over his prosthetic blades in 2007 and was banned from able-bodied competition in January 2008 before the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the decision last May.
The South African subsequently failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics but a month later he left his indelible mark on the Bird’s Nest Stadium with three gold medals at the Paralympic Games.
As if that was not a trying enough period in a young man’s life, Pistorius, who will be 23 on November 22, was critically injured in a boat crash in late February, while in October he was arrested on an assault charge – which was later thrown out of court.
“It was a challenging year but I think I learned quite a bit,” Pistorius said.
Pistorius was building up for the 2009 campaign when he went out on a boat on the Vaal River in South Africa.
Heavy rain had raised the water level and Pistorius’ boat hit a submerged jetty, stopping instantly and hurling the athlete into the steering wheel.
Pistorius required 180 stitches in his face, suffered a broken nose and jaw, several ribs were broken, and his eye socket was smashed.
“After the accident, when I woke up in the hospital, I was extremely happy to be alive,” he added.
“My training had gone really well in January and February and it was going great.
“When I had my accident it was a huge setback and I was really struggling.
“It was a big worry if I was going to be able to run properly, because my breathing was affected.”
Eating was also an issue but Pistorius made a remarkable recovery and by May he was competing at the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, while he spent the European summer based in Italy, to avoid excessive travelling to his home in South Africa.
Having missed out on the Beijing Olympics, Pistorius’ aim at the start of 2009 was to make August’s World Championships in Berlin.
However, he missed the South African championships – the trials for the World Championships – following his accident and his condition throughout the early season was poor.
Pistorius described his performance in Manchester as “shocking” and, although he improved as the year went on, a personal best was beyond him, as was a place in Berlin.
“I only started training in the second week of April – I had about a month’s training, which is, by any means, not enough,” he said.
“For me, one of the biggest things is that the one goal that I had, probably the biggest goal that I set, every season I want to set a personal best.
“I had done that for the last five years so, to me, that was really the saddest thing about this year, that I wasn’t able to run quicker than I did last year.”
Pistorius’ times could have won selection for South Africa’s relay squad but, because he missed the trials, he was not considered.
But he does not want any preferential treatment and maintains he must qualify like the rest.
“With the times I was running, I was still in the top four,” he said.
“But I want to qualify just like any other guy. If I have to qualify in March, then I’ve got to do that.”
Pistorius maintains the year was not a total write-off, unlike the boat he was travelling in, as he learned key aspects of racing that will bode well for the future.
Meanwhile, things are looking up.
A scientific study into the prosthetic running blades he wears determined they do not provide an unfair advantage, as the IAAF suggested when implementing their ban on the sprinter.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studied Pistorius and provided evidence to CAS in his successful appeal, tested six amputee athletes, including American Jim Bob Bizzell, who twice finished second to the South African in Beijing.
Pistorius felt vindicated by the research into his carbon-fibre Cheetah Flex-Foot blades.
“I’m extremely happy,” he said.
“I think it’s very important we won our case and it was important for some of the other guys to be tested.”Tags: able-bodied, amputee, Beijing Olympics, double amputee, Oscar Pistorius, paralympic, prosthetic blades