His personal fairytale ended tonight when he failed to qualify for the 400m final, but for disabled people worldwide the historic performance of Oscar Pistorius has redefined the possible.
The 25-year-old South African dubbed “blade runner, came last in his semi-final heat with a time of 46.54. But despite his not making the final, what he has achieved in terms of lifting the profile and aspirations of disabled sportsmen is enough to secure him a place in Olympic history.
Julie Morley, director of community services at Disability Trust, which supports people with physical disabilities, autism and brain injuries in the UK, believes the image of Pistorius competing in carbon-fibre blades next to able bodied athletes will help normalise physical disability.
“It is tremendously helpful for people with physical disability who struggle with the everyday things normal people take for granted. It gives them something to aspire to, to say ‘if he can do it I can’,” she said. “But just as important is the perception of able bodied people. People think ‘oh they can’t do that physically disabled people need to be protected, but sometimes they don’t.
“I think [Pistorius] has made that acceptable. He has opened people to the dignity of risk, giving them that, rather than saying ‘they can’t do that’.”
For Pistorius, his Olympic appearance was the culmination of years of fighting.
The South African had his lower legs amputated at 11 months old after being born without a fibula in either leg.
After competing Paralympics he appeared to be coming close to his Olympic dream after winning a legal battle over his carbon fibre blades with sporting body IAAF in 2008 - after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling they did not give him an unfair advantage.
But it seemed he would miss out on London 2012 after failing to meet South Africa’s qualification criteria – despite him running two Olympic qualifying times over the past 12 months. South African officials finally relented, setting him free to run but again igniting the debate about whether the blades give him an advantage.
World record holder Michael Johnson was among those raising concerns, which , temporarily at least, were left aside when Pistorius blasted out of the blocks in his opening appearance at the first heat on Saturday. He described the noise from the crowd as “mind-blowing”.
Grenada’s Kirani James, the 19-year-old world champion who was up against him in his first round run, summed up how Pistorius could change perceptions. “He is out here making history and we should all respect that and admire that,” he said.
“I just see him as another athlete, as another competitor but most importantly as a human being, another person.
“I have a lot of respect for the guy and for what he does.”
Whatever he does next the debate over his place at the Olympics, and the categorisation of the disabled people in sport in general, will follow him but so will his success as a role model for fellow amputees.