Photo: Kirani James congratulates Oscar Pistorius

An Olympic first: two competitors swap name & number

Grenada’s 19-year-old phenom Kirani James is the Olympic 400m champion, wiping out the field and winning gold in a very fast 43.9 on Monday.

But capturing the 400m gold was only one of James’ two amazing deeds this week. On Sunday, after winning a semi-final that included South Africa’s remarkable double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius, James approached Pistorius immediately after the race. Hand outstretched, James congratulated Pistorius for his achievement in reaching the semi – even though Oscar finished last in the heat and would not be advancing to the final.

Oscar Pistorius is a true Olympic hero; James knows this only too well. The South African has become an elite (PB 45.07) 400m runner despite having been born with no fibulae and growing up having to wear artificial legs every day of his life. A paralympic champ many times over, Oscar has also fought a long battle against the IOC and the IAAF to be allowed to run against able-bodied athletes. (Incredibly, a man lacking legs below the knee was suspected by the IOC of holding an “unfair advantage” by running on two carbon-fiber blades.) This week, his long fight finally won, Pistorius lined up at last on the start line against the world’s best 400m runners – labels and “disabilities” cast aside.

After the semi, James and Pistorius swapped their numbered race bibs. Asked later about initiating the exchange, James stated that it was “an honour” to have competed against Pistorius. And then the following day, James went out and won gold, while @OscarPistorius said this to the world via Twitter: “Had a great night at The Olympic Park tonight with friends and fam. Witnessed Kirani James winning Gold was priceless!”

Two wise, mature, world-class athletes. James, just 19, had one more rare act to bestow on Olympic Park on Monday: after winning his gold, he did not celebrate until he had walked back and shaken the hand of each of the seven guys he’d just beaten. If this is how they raise athletes in Grenada, we’d love to see more.

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