RIO DE JANEIRO: Oscar Pistorius is gone and so far there’s been no replacement for the first athlete to compete in both the Paralympics and Olympics. But it’s probably only a matter of time.
Disgraced after his conviction in the murder of his girlfriend in South Africa, Pistorius is absent in every sense from the Rio Paralympics. New Zealander Liam Malone even smashed his 200m record on Monday, running on a similar set of carbon-fiber blades to those that “blade runner” Pistorius made so famous.
But with athletes pushing at the boundaries of what is disabled sport and what is able-bodied sport, Pistorius’ revolution certainly hasn’t gone away.
The current leader in the race to become the second person ever to shift between the Paralympics and Olympics is German long jumper Markus Rehm.
Rehm, who has one leg and wears a blade on the other, has a personal best distance of 8.4m, which would have beaten the 8.38m jumped by the United States’ Jeff Henderson when he won Olympic gold in Rio this August.
Rehm fought to be included in the Rio Games but was rejected by the world athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, on the grounds that his blade may give him an unfair advantage over someone with two legs. He is still hoping for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“My goal was to compete at the Olympics and I’d love to compete there even without the ranking because I’m a proper Olympian and this is my main event here,” he told AFP after competing in the 4×100 relay in Rio.
“I just would love to use a bigger platform,” he said. “After the Paralympic Games in Rio, I’m going to continue talking to the IAAF to find a solution to compete in London 2017, the next Championship…. It would be great to represent our sport to many more people and show the world that we are very good athletes and we don’t have to hide behind Olympic athletes.
Another athlete catching attention for crossover potential is Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka, who ran the 1,500m in the T3 category for impaired vision, winning with a time of 3:48.29 that would also have given him Olympic gold.
Downfall and the future
Pistorius’ downfall has been as public and spectacular as his rise.
Seven months after competing in London he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, shooting through the door of the bathroom where she was hiding. He insisted he had believed he was firing at an intruder, but was eventually convicted of murdering Steenkamp.
In Rio, which could once have been his chance to cement himself in the history books, he has been all but forgotten. At the athletics stadium, press secretaries for South African athletes have even taken care to prevent them answering Pistorius-related questions.
However, Arnie Fourie, a single amputee South African Paralympian, says his legacy hangs over the Games.
“Oscar is obviously missed. I mean, what he has done for the sport not only in our country but for the world what he’s done no one can ever take that away from him. There’s room for new people to step up,” he said.
Peruvian soldier and amputee Jose Luis Casas, who competes in the 200m and 400m, says he also wishes things had turned out differently.
“I’d have liked to compete against him. We miss him. Pistorius did things that have nothing to do with sport, but he also opened the door for para-athletes like me,” he said.
Rehm says it’s time to move on from Pistorius.
“Pistorius was a chapter of a few years ago. I want to write a new chapter,” he said. “I want to bring the Olympics and Paralympics closer.”