OSCAR PISTORIUS IS SLOW OUT OF THE starting blocks. He lacks the propulsive leg strength of his competitors, and it’s not hard to understand why: He doesn’t have legs. A double amputee since he was 11 months old, Pistorius wears a pair of J-shaped prostheses when he’s on the track. They keep him upright, but his speed comes from elsewhere. Atop the spindly artificial legs, his upper body and thighs are a powerful mass. He rounds the first turn, barely distinguishable from his competitors, except that his hips seem to be turning more broadly from side to side and his shoulders seem to be working harder than theirs. It’s as if he’s been shot through the air, and the parts of him that touch the ground are charged with keeping up.
It doesn’t look effortless. Rather, it looks like a body under intense pressure. He approaches the final turn and you are afraid his carbon fiber blades will slip out from under him, but he drives his body into the bend. “Pacing is the greatest challenge,” he says. “Too slow and you never catch up. Too fast and you risk fatigue. You need to be both relaxed and aggressive.” Now he is exploding toward the finish. He is graceful but exists in that realm of total control that verges, thrillingly, on loss of control. “I push my limits when I race,” he says. “I’ve had short-term hearing loss and blurred vision after I finish.”
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