Anyone who hasn’t heard of Oscar Oz Pistorius must be living on another planet. The young South African athlete has confounded the athletics world and befuddled officials within the hallowed halls of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Born without fibulae or calf bones, Oscar's legs were amputated at the age of 11 months and he grew up on a series of prosthetic legs. However, that minor setback didn’t stop him from going on to play rugby at his school, Pretoria Boys High, and take part in junior provincial water polo and tennis. There’s a story that he stunned his fellow players at a school cricket match by going in to bat without pads!
However, it was while recovering from a serious knee injury from rugby that he first turned his attention to running as a sport In January 2004. Eight months later he was competing in the Athens Paralympics. He came third in the T44 class 100 metres final to take a bronze medal. And later, despite stumbling at the start of the 200m qualifier, he got through to the final. He won it, beating Americans Marlon Shirley and world record holder Brian Frasure, and setting a new world record of 21.97 seconds.
Oscar has notched up an impressive array of track successes in the meantime. At the 2005 Paralympic World Cup he won gold in the 100m and 200m, breaking his own world record for the 200m. At the 2006 Paralympic Athletics World Championships, Oscar took gold again, this time in the 100m, 200m and 400m events, and again breaking his world record in the 200m.
For a while, Oscar had dreams of competing in the Beijing Olympics. He performed reasonably well in 400m races against abled bodied runners. But the athletics officials had noticed his performances and were worried. The IAAF introduced a new rule banning techical aids, and a German scientist then determined that Oscar’s Cheetah blades gave him an unfair advantage. He was effectively banned from the able-bodied Olympics. He has decided to focus on his preparation for the 2008 Paralympics.
Oscar’s coach Ampie Louw has him on a fairly rigid training schedule that puts him in the gym every morning from 9 to 11am every day. He trains on the track from 4 to 5.30pm and then spins for 30 minutes from 6pm. Oscar visits a dietician and a chiropractor once a week.
“Nedbank’s affiliation with disability sport in South Africa goes back many years,” says Oscar. “This includes the National Paralympic teams and the annual Nedbank Championships I’ve been involved with over the last four years.”
The Nedbank Championships brings athletes together from all over the country to compete in track and field events in preparation for international competitions, including the Paralympics.
Eight months ago Nedbank appointed Oscar as a Brand Ambassador to promote the bank’s considerable presence in disability sport. It’s an honour of which Oscar is justifiably proud.
Oscar’s manager, Peet Van Zyl, takes care of all the things a busy professional athlete doesn’t have time for. Peet handles Oscar’s appointments, makes travel arrangements, even handles his tax obligations and legal matters.
Oscar spends most of his day at the High Performance Centre in the grounds of Pretoria University. His father Henke lives in St. Francis, But his brother Carl and sister AimÃ©e live near to his home in Pretoria East, and he sees them often. He is studying for a Business Management degree and plans to study architecture after that.
“I want to get involved in different areas of business; I’ve just started a transport business with my brother, and I’m planning to open a restaurant cocktail bar in partnership with my manager, Peet.” He says. “I love cooking, so a restaurant seems like a logical step forward.”
When asked about his favourite food, Oscar doesn’t hesitate: “Lasange!” he smiles. His favourite band is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and his favourite car – budget unlimited – is the Lamborghini Murcielago. At the moment he’s driving a Volvo C30 and riding a Honda CBR 600. His other hobbies include painting and golf. Has he got a girlfriend? “No, I don’t get much time to socialise or anything like that,” says Oscar.