There is a sense of irony that the former bastion of the Paralympic movement, Oscar Pistorius, should have been released from prison in the week the IPC Athletics World Championships get under way in Doha.
The moment has not gone unnoticed by David Weir, one of the leading lights of Paralympics in Pistorius’s absence from the track, although admittedly not with anything like the same global appeal.
Has damage been done to Paralympic sport by the events of Valentine’s Day 2013, when the South African killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by firing shots through a shut bathroom door thinking she was an intruder?
“It was a terrible tragedy,” says Weir, “but I don’t think that’s affected the wider Paralympic movement. Obviously, he’s a very big name and maybe the timing of his release from prison isn’t the best in the same week as these World Championships. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about it.”
Weir does not expect ever to see Pistorius back on the track competitively – “I just can’t see it happening, I just don’t think he’ll have the right mindset,” says Weir – while rumours suggest that he is plotting a different sporting career in golf.
So where does a Pistorius-less Paralympics find itself as the World Championships begin today in Qatar and how much has the glow from London 2012 faded?
For Weir, there is frustration at the International Paralympic Committee for failing to market its stars and its events properly, with the 36-year-old pointing to a major clash with the championships.
“It’s been put on the calendar too close to the New York Marathon, meaning a lot of the top wheelchair racers aren’t coming here,” he says, “This could have been moved later.
“But that’s the IPC. I really feel things should have moved on from 2012 but they just haven’t. I don’t want to be the only guy always moaning about this but things haven’t gone the direction I’d have liked. Maybe it’s worth me saying something when my competition’s over. Maybe a few of us athletes should come together and sit down with the IPC.”
Pistorius might have arrived at London 2012 as the big name but Weir captured the headlines, winning his fourth gold of the Games in the final event, the men’s marathon.
In Doha, he has opted for just two events – the 1500m and 5,000m – and admits he has no great expectations, having not included the Worlds as part of his plans for 2015.
This season had been about focusing on marathons – he was second in London, won in Berlin and will compete in New York on 1 November, the day after the Worlds finish.
As a result, he said: “[British Athletics head Paralympic coach] Paula Dunn put the point across to me that there’s no pressure on me, so I feel pretty relaxed about what’s in store for me in Doha.
“After London, I was physically and mentally drained for a long time and I needed the time off. And that’s gradually given me the appetite back for Rio next year. That’s what this is about, getting me used to a major championships before looking ahead to the Olympics.”
In his partial absence, Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, who will be in action in Doha, has very much taken over the mantle as the world’s leading wheelchair racer. Yet Weir, who underperformed at the summer’s Anniversary Games in London after being struck down with tonsillitis, is confident of regaining his place as No 1.
“That’s what I’m aiming to be – the best,” he says. “I feel I’m getting back to my best.”
To get himself in the mood, he has used one of Doha’s most famous new residents, the former Barcelona midfielder Xavi, to inspire him.
“I was ringing the kids when I was in the hotel and spotted him,” Weir says. “I’m not the type of person to do it but I decided I had to get a photo with him. I thought about telling him he should have gone to Arsenal instead.”
As well as playing for Al Sadd, Xavi is being employed as an ambassador for Qatar and Weir is hopeful the sporting pair’s paths can cross again.
“Hopefully, he’ll be there to give me a gold,” he concluded. Only time will tell.
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