Paralympics finds level with Pistorius drama

Does Oscar Pistorius’ outburst mark the 'coming of age' moment for the Paralympic Games?


    An intense rivalry over 200 metres turns into a drama in front of an 80,000 crowd and a worldwide TV audience of many millions.

    The big star, the handsome poster boy, the ambassador, the household name, the legend, loses. That wasn't in the script. 

    This is an articulate, likeable superstar. And we expect humility. But we didn't get it this time from Oscar Pistorius - not after this rare defeat to Brazilian Alan Oliveira. 

    Pistorius lashes out at the apparent length of Oliveira's blades saying: 'These guys are a lot taller and you can't compete. We aren't racing a fair race.'

    An embarrassing moment that may expose inequality in these Games. But was this was also the moment the Paralympics really came of age and took their rightful place in modern sport?

    Fierce rivalry, bitter recriminations, headlines across the world, debate and drama - just like high level competition in other major sports events.

    Pistorius has earned every plaudit that has come his way during an unforgettable summer. Making history in the able bodied games, he produced a high level of performance while being prepared to take the weight of his responsibilities as a genuine role model and influence on children.

    So let's not sanitise his post race interview after the 200-metre Paralympic defeat in London. It was unforgivably sour and badly timed, and managed to totally detract from Oliveira's achievement. He can never change that - the subsequent apologies about timing are not backtracking, they are understandable damage limitation from a man intelligent enough to understand public relations, reputation and brand.

    Pistorius knows more about how fair that race was than you or I, appears to have a valid point and continues to pursue it with the International Paralympic Committee, who insist the rules on the length of blades or fair.

    But how intriguing that one of the reasons Pistorius doesn't use these longer blades is in order to meet OLYMPIC restrictions of length. I am still not 100 per cent sure he should have been allowed to compete in the Olympics. And though I'm glad he did if it changed one person's perception of disability, there's more to this debate than meets the eye.

    But we also need to be mindful this is the Paralympics not the Pistorius show. Mistakes were made during the Olympics with an annoying editorial misjudgement by the host broadcasters who patronisingly lazily lingered on his blades in the 4x400 relay race. It was won astonishingly by the Bahamas, whose efforts were shamefully undervalued.

    The South African isn't the only Paralympic athlete to create a stir after an event. British cyclist Jody Cundy had an epic tantrum after disqualification cost him a medal, and swore live on TV before re-emerging to apologise to the crowd and viewers. It was over the top. But while we were talking about Cundy's temperament we weren't talking about his disability - or his opponents' and that is where the Paralympics is heading. Recognition of the standard of sport - not the disability, not the bravery, not the incredible back stories. This is the stride London 2012 is hitting, having taken the baton from Beijing. Warts and all. Try and patronise a man ranting into a TV camera about fairness.

    Paralympians want ability and not disability recognised and they have achieved this. Plus 2.5 million tickets will be sold, so the competition is elevated by the large crowds, the noise and the appreciation of the skills on display.

    My favourite two moments of the games so far have taken me away from my starting point for many sports, which is recognising how the competitors are overcoming their disability and how the sport really works. Paralympic football being the classic example of this.

    But one of my favourite moments came in wheelchair basketball. One of the players fooled his opponent so totally it was like he'd used a magic wand, before offloading a pass to his right without looking. What a player. And I can tell you his team aren't good enough to win a medal. How often in the other sport I've seen this week has a player chosen a less creative, negative option. 

    BEAT your opponent one-on-one. Don't pass it sideways every time. This is real sport!

    And the wonderful moment of the Games so far came in table tennis. German Jochen Wollmert beat Will Bayley to gold, and the British player was so upset he lay flat on his back crying.  All of the focus was temporarily on Bayley, who felt he had let himself and the fans down. 

    Until Wollmert got down on the floor and hugged him

    It didn't stem Bayley's flood of tears but will have activated a few tear ducts elsewhere. With such natural compassion, the 47-year-old born with arthrogryposis got it right. Next time I predict the shining star of these games will get it right too. 

    He's reminded us - nobody's perfect.



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