There are reasons not to feel proud about being a South African, the most egregious being the legacy of apartheid, of course.  But there are also reasons to be very proud, like the iconic Nelson Mandela and the peaceful transition to democracy in the 1990s.  Now, add another reason: the 25 year old Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, or “Blade Runner” as he’s also called,  becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games by running the men’s 400-meter race this weekend. And, although he didn’t win a medal, he says that having the opportunity to represent his country in the Olympics “far surpassed” his expectations.

Photograph by Robert Beck

It’s not just his talent, his courage and his engaging smile that make Oscar Pistorius a truly special person, but also the way he has refused to consider himself disadvantaged.  This, I think, is largely due to his extraordinary parents.  When he was born without fibulae, they refused to treat him any differently.  When Oscar commented as a boy that he didn’t make footprints in the sea-sand the way other children did, his mother said his prints were “better.” In the mornings she would say, in a matter of fact way, that it was time for Oscar’s brother to put on his shoes and for him to put on his legs.

Watching the Olympics as a dual citizen is a rather bifurcating experience.  When I saw South African Chad le Clos edge out Baltimorean Michael Phelps to win gold in the 200 meter butterfly, I was absolutely thrilled for him, of course—but I was rooting for Phelps at the same time.  If it was ambiguous for me, I can only imagine what it must have been like for Chad le Clos to out-touch his idol, the person who had inspired him to want to be a swimmer in the first place.  In any event, with Michael Phelps retiring, the South African now has the distinction of being the last person ever to beat the Baltimorean.

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