"Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius says he's at Olympics to compete, not debate

(CBS News) LONDON - You can bet Oscar Pistorius will give his all when he runs in the 400-meter dash starting on Saturday. The South African sprinter has a remarkable story.

Of all the battles athletes fight to get to an Olympic games, none has been greater than those fought by Oscar Pistorius.

He is the only athlete who doesn't just take off his street shoes and put on his track shoes to run -- he takes off his street legs and puts on his track legs.

They call him the blade runner.

Born with deformed lower limbs, his running blades may be the most controversial pieces of equipment in sports.

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"If it was such a technologically advanced piece of equipment that many other people you claim it is," Pistorius said at a press conference, "then why isn't everybody running close to the times I'm running on it?"

And that's the point. As long as Pistorius was running on the Paralympic circuit, nobody complained.

But now that he's won an international court battle -- and can run against able-bodied athletes -- the question is not whether the artificial legs slow him down, but whether they speed him up. He finished second in a pre-Olympic warm-up meet in Italy.

In that race, "I didn't kick hard enough on the back corner," Pistorius said, "but I'm happy."

The blades aren't the only issue. Some say he is also lighter without lower limbs, and so potentially faster.

"That debate will always be alive and there will be a percentage of people that have their opinion that think I shouldn't be able to run," Pistorius said. "But my job is not to entertain that. My job is to train hard."

There's another criticism: that Pistorius is a novelty act, a distraction. But it's an idea rejected by friends, like Iwan Thomas, a silver medalist at the Atlanta games.

"I don't think it is a sideshow," Thomas said. "I don't think people are tuning in just for the value to see -- I don't wanna say the word 'freakshow' because that's wrong. I want them to tune in because they want to see an athlete who -- good on him -- is running fast enough to compete."

Oscar Pistorius won't win any medals. But just getting here was his victory. And apart from the big track stars, he may well be one of the most watched athletes at these games.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.