Oscar Pistorius strides through the sun-dappled car park in his designer suit. He has expensive sunglasses perched on the end of his nose, and shoes of the softest leather on his feet. He looks like a lawyer or TV executive. Certainly nothing like his alter ego, Blade Runner, dubbed the fastest man on no legs, and one of the most incredible athletes the world has ever known. But when the 25-year-old double amputee changes his “day legs” for his “racing legs” – those metal, J-shaped contraptions that earned him his sobriquet – he’s ready to take on the world.
At the Olympic Games he ran in the 400m and 4 x 400m relay, becoming the first double amputee to do so. “I loved the experience of running in the Olympics, but I’m all about the Paralympics now,” he says. “I’m very, very proud to be a Paralympian.”
Pistorius has broken conventions, ignited debates and made it impossible to ignore Paralympic sport. Above all, he’s compelling, and hugely successful. Not just on the track, but off it as well.
He lives in Pretoria, in a Mediterranean-style house in a gated community. A raft of sponsorship deals and commercial tie-ins with the likes of Oakley, BT, Nike and Thierry Mugler mean that he’s one of the highest-earning athletes in the world, and certainly the most commercially successful Paralympian ever. He's charming, good-looking and was recently voted the best-dressed man in South Africa by GQ magazine.
So what is the man behind the big build-up really like? I caught up with Pistorius before the London 2012 Games and found a man utterly devoted to his sport and to winning.
“I just want to run as fast as I can,” he says. “I want to be treated like any other athlete and I want to be able to challenge myself and perform at the highest level. As soon as you push boundaries, you meet with opposition, but I’m not doing anything wrong. I want to make the most of my God-given talent. That’s all.”
What is most striking when you speak to him is his winning mindset. “If there’s something I can do to be faster, I just do it, it’s simple.” The most obvious sign of that pursuit of perfection is the 19 kilos (3 stone) he shed in the three years running up to the Games. But look harder and you’ll see an extraordinary attention to detail.
After every training session and particularly after every race, he writes down minuscule observations about his performance. “I write down what the weather was like and how training went beforehand. I write down how I got there, including whether the train was late or the traffic was bad. I write down what I ate and how I was feeling and details of any injuries, how much rain there was that day. Everything. I do it so that when it comes to a race in the future, if I’m not feeling great, or haven’t eaten well, I can look back and know that the last time I ate badly, I still managed to win the race. Every race is won or lost in the head, so you have to get the contents of your head right. Writing things down helps you to control your thoughts.
“Being a perfectionist is everything. If you skimp, you lose. With me, it’s a mindset, and I’ve always had it. I joke that if I toast bread it has to be perfectly toasted. I suppose it’s a bit OCD in many ways, but that’s the way I am. I just don’t like short cuts. If I do something, it has to be done properly.”