Until recently the story of Oscar Pistorius, born twenty-five years ago without calf bones and now history’s greatest para-athlete, has been, well, just that: a story. Feel-good. Inspirational. All about the limitlessness of the human spirit. Going into the last Olympic cycle, the governing body of track and field ruled comically, tragically, that the carbon-fiber blades affixed to his knees gave Pistorius an unfair advantage against able-bodied athletes—his only real competition. The successful battle Pistorius waged for the right to compete against the world’s fastest men was both epic and Pyrrhic; thanks to time spent in courts and testing labs and away from the track, he fell shy of the Olympic qualifying time by three-quarters of a second. And so Pistorius remained a symbol.
This time it’s for real. It’s not just about inspiration or the questions he provokes about the purity, purpose, and very definition of sport. This time it’s about winning. This time it’s on. In July, Pistorius broke the Olympic qualifying mark, then reached the semifinals of the world championships. If he bests that qualifying time once more between January and June, which he will, he’ll almost certainly be representing South Africa in London next summer in the open 400 and the 4 x 400 relay.
“Don’t get me wrong—it’s a privilege to be an icon for those who were born the way I was or who have been injured,” says Pistorius. “It may sound strange, but I’ve got to focus on the fact that what got me to where I am is my ability as an athlete. It’s about track now.” Which isn’t to say that Pistorius, who recently became the new face of Thierry Mugler’s fragrance, is indifferent to the way he presents to the world. “For walking around, I wear normal prosthetics. During the summer, I go with a more Mediterranean look. At the end of summer, I get them sprayed to lighten them up a little—they now come in twenty-eight different shades. Just for kicks, I go for the ones with the really impressive calves.”