Michael Steele/Getty Images

Sporting world shocked by charges against inspirational athlete Oscar Pistorius

1 Comment

News that South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius had been charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on Thursday came as a shock to nearly everyone who had heard the runner’s inspirational story of his struggle to become the first double-amputee ever to compete at the Olympics.

Pistorius, now 26, was born without fibulas and and had to have his legs amputated below the knee at only eleven months old. That didn’t stop him from competing in rugby, tennis, and water polo while growing up in Pretoria, before being introduced to running in after suffering a knee injury.

Fueled by his competitive spirit and riding on his new racing “blades,” fitted for him by prosthetist Francois Vanderwatt, Pistorius went on to win gold in the 200m at the Paralympic Games in Athens only months after starting to race, and then finished sixth in at the 400m able-bodied national championships the next year.

He won the 100m, 200m, and 400m Paralympic world championships in 2006, and then set his sights on qualifying for the Beijing Olympics. One problem: Pistorius had a number of detractors, including world record holder Michael Johnson, who suggested that his disability was actually an advantage, since the runner raced on specially engineer carbon fiber limbs.

“I know Oscar well, and he knows my position; my position is that because we don’t know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics that he wears it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors…

“Oscar sees no limits; he has no fear when competing against able-bodied athletes. So it is hard for people to understand and to accept when you start to talk about whether or not he may have the advantage.”

The IAAF, track’s governing body, agreed, and banned any device using springs, wheels, or any other device that might provide an advantage in 2007, marking Pistorius ineligible for the 2008 Games.

Pistorius eventually won a reprieve with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in April 2008, which, after a two-day hearing in Switzerland, determined that Pistorius held no advantage and was allowed to compete against able-bodied runners.

“Oscar’s done so much for Paralympic sport and I’m grateful for all the eyes he has opened to what Paralympic sport can be,” British Paralympic gold medal sprinter Johnnie Peacock, who started racing after seeing Pistorius on TV, told the London Telegraph.

The “Blade Runner,” as he’s now known, didn’t qualify for the Olympics in 2008, but was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people after winning the right to compete, and signed sponsorship deals with Oakley, Nike, Thierry Mugler, and running blade manufacturer Ossur, in all totaling nearly $5 million.

Now able to compete against the world’s best, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to win an able-bodied world championship medal when his 4×400 relay team took silver in Daegu in 2011. And despite failing to run the necessary Olympic “A” standard qualification time twice, the South African Olympic Committee announced last July 4 that Pistorius had been selected for the Olympic team for the 400m and 4x400m relay.

Two months later, on August 4, 2012, Pistorius became the first double-amputee runner to compete at the Olympics. And better than that, he took second in his preliminary heat with a time of 45.44 seconds, a season best that put him into the semifinals.

“It just felt really magical,” Pistorius said. “If I could predict what it would feel like or imagine beyond my wildest dreams, this was probably 10 times that. To step out in front of a crowd this massive, it’s a mind-blowing experience,” he added. “I’ve had support in the last couple of days like I have never felt before.”

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Pistorius was knocked out in the semis, finishing eighth in the race. After the event, the South African symbolically exchanged racing bibs with Kirani James of Grenada, who eventually went on to win the gold.

“This whole experience was amazing… to step out here in an Olympic final is more than I could have ever hoped for,” Pistorius said after that race. “That opportunity to come here once again and finish today and not yesterday is a dream come true.”

The inspirational athlete was asked to carry the South African flag at the Olympics Closing Ceremony as a tribute to his struggle and success, and went on to earn two more Paralympic golds a month later.

Damian Lillard added as U.S. Olympic basketball team finalist

Damian Lillard
AP
Leave a comment

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was added to the list of 30 finalists to make the 12-man U.S. roster for the Olympics, USA Basketball announced Wednesday.

Lillard, 25 and a two-time All-Star, did not attend an August camp deemed mandatory for Olympic consideration, but called USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and expressed desire for the Rio Games.

“Both [coach] Mike [Krzyzewski] and I feel like Damian is playing at a very high level and that he should be added to our list of Olympic finalists,” Colangelo said in a press release. “Damian has been a member of the USA National Team since 2014, and he participated in National Team training camps in 2013 and 2014, so he does have equity in USA Basketball, which is always important to me.”

USA Basketball has not said when the final 12-man Olympic team will be named. In 2012, it named its Olympic roster three weeks before the London Games.

The 2012 Olympic roster included three point guards — Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. Paul and Westbrook are finalists for the 2016 team, but Williams is not.

Other potential first-time Olympic point guards competing with Lillard include NBA MVP Stephen Curry, All-Star John Wall and past All-Star Kyrie Irving.

MORE: Tony Parker updates Olympic qualifying, Rio status

Bob Costas to host Rio Olympic primetime coverage

Bob Costas
AP
Leave a comment

Bob Costas will be the Olympic primetime host for a record 11th time in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Costas, the primetime host at every Olympics on NBC since Barcelona 1992, also served as NBC’s late-night host at Seoul 1988.

“The Olympics are a unique television event,” Costas said in an NBC press release. “They involve classic sports coverage, of course, but also many elements of storytelling and travelogue aspects that are not as much a part of the typical sports broadcast. In a way, the Olympics are a three-week mini-series which, if done well, should bring viewers not only memorable athletic performances, but a sense of the host city and country, and an appreciation of what is a truly global gathering.”

NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said “there is no one better than” Costas for the role.

“For a quarter-century, Bob has been NBC’s pilot of primetime at the Olympics, and over that span, the scope of our coverage has constantly evolved, with Rio set to become the most live event in U.S. television history,” Bell said in a press release. “Given his vast experience and uncanny expertise, simply put there is no one better than Bob to tell the stories of the athletes, take our viewers inside the world’s biggest sports event, and introduce them to one of the most spectacular cities on the planet.”

Jim McKay hosted Olympic primetime coverage eight times for ABC.

WATCH: NBC Olympics promo video