Jonnie Peacock is delighted to be described as Britain’s very own blade runner. The man the name was coined for remains his inspiration, even though Pistorius is one of Peacock’s fiercest rivals for a medal in the 100m. “Oscar’s a bit of a hero to me,” he declares. “I’ll always look up to him.”
Peacock, 19, had his right leg amputated below the knee when he was just five years old after contracting meningitis. Doctors at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge had feared that the rampant infection would kill him and told his mum Linda to say her goodbyes. As he slipped into a coma, she whispered to him to “keep fighting”. “That’s what I did then and I’ve tried to do ever since,” he says.
He was soon climbing trees and playing football – he recalls a penalty kick where his artificial leg flew off after striking the ball. “The keeper didn’t know what to save,” he laughs.
Peacock’s decision to take up sprinting came after watching Pistorius in action. Since then he has taken a massive 2.4 seconds off his personal best, culminating in a world record-breaking run of 10.85 seconds in the United States at the end of June, smashing the time (10.91) previously posted by Pistorius in their amputee class.
Peacock’s belief that he can run even faster promises to make his event on 5 and 6 September one of the highlights of the Games. “I can definitely go quicker. Oscar is the 100m Paralympic champion and he won’t want to lose his crown. But if everything goes right on the day, we will see something special.”
Liverpool football fan Peacock – his grandfather played for both of the big Merseyside clubs – admits that his early teenage years were difficult. “The walk home from school that should have taken me 15 minutes took an hour because my leg was so sore. So there were a few tears, with me thinking, ‘Why me?’ But my mum always said that the greatest pain for me would not have been from my leg, but me not being able to join in.”
Today, he won’t countenance talk of his life being somehow adversely affected by his childhood amputation. “Losing a leg was a lot to deal with, but it has made me the person I am today. If someone said to me, you can have your leg back, I don’t think that I’d take it. With all that’s happened to me since, I really do feel so lucky.”
See Pistorius and Peacock in the Men’s 100m T44 heats tonight at 7pm on More4.