"Don't focus on the disability," Oscar Pistorius told the world before these Games. "Focus on the ability." How right he was. There was no room for sentimental thoughts or emotional notions after the T44 200m final.
It was not a procession or a coronation, but a race, raw and fast. And Pistorius came second. He was beaten to the line by Brazil's Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira, who won in 21.45sec. Pistorius was .07sec behind him. He reacted furiously, telling the TV cameras in his post-race interview that "we aren't racing a fair race".
Pistorius was convinced that the running blades Oliveira was using were too long, and called for the International Paralympic Committee to investigate. This from a man who has had to fight long and hard to overturn doubts about whether or not he himself has an unfair advantage when he is competing against non-disabled runners.
The twist in the story is that it is the very fact Pistorius wants to run in the Olympics and other able-bodied competitions that cost him here.
To do crossover like that, he can only run on blades that have been cleared for use by the IAAF, the sport's governing body. Longer blades, of the kind Oliveira used, are only legal in Paralympic events.
If Pistorius switched, he would not be able to run in non-disabled competitions. Besides which, he would undermine his own argument that his success is about the body above the knee, rather than the technology below it. In a sense, he is a victim of his own ambition.
It was a sour reaction, cutting through the saccharine notes of so much of the Paralympic coverage. But Pistorius has always insisted that he wants to be known as an athlete, rejecting the labels other people have put upon him, whether they were that he was disabled, differently abled, a cheat, an inspiration, or a role model.
And this was an athlete's response to defeat, if a particularly ungracious one.
Pistorius has never lost a 200m race before, and he could not quite believe that it had happened. Modest as he may sometimes seem – on the startline he responded to the adoring applause of the 80,000 with a polite little bow – he has, like any champion, a sizeable ego and a temper to match.
Once he had had time to cool down, Pistorius was a more gracious, admitting that Oliveira had "played by the rules" and that his blades were within the stipulated limits.
But his anger was still there, bubbling away beneath the surface. "He's never run a 21 second race before. That's fact," he said of Oliveira. "He was running high 23s less than a year ago so you just need to look at the facts behind it. I brought it up with the IPC but nothing's been done about it. I believe in the fairness in sport and I believe in running on the right length."
Pistorius' point is that Oliveira's blades were too long, increasing his speed in the final few metres. "I've never seen a guy come back from eight metres on the 100 metre mark and overtake me on the finish line."
He had been well ahead after the bend, and looked to be coasting to victory, until Oliveira produced a final, astonishing, turn of speed. Still, Pistorius' own time was a lot slower than the world record of 21.30sec he had set in the semi-finals.
If he had been able to repeat that, he would have won with ease. But he made a schoolboy mistake, tensing up and slowing down as Oliveira came alongside him. Pistorius seemed as surprised as everyone else in the stadium that suddenly he was in a race for the line. "There's not even another Paralympic amputee to run a 21 second race," he insisted, "let alone a 21.4sec."
Like Pistorius, Oliveira had both legs amputated soon after he was born. "I am below the maximum length of blades I could have been," he pointed out. "I don't know who he is picking a fight with. It is not about two blades, it is about training."
He was eloquent in his rebuttal. "All I want to do is thank everybody that helped me get here and celebrate, I am not worried about this polemic that has been raised, this polemic is just about Oscar Pistorius, not about myself. For me he is a really great idol and to hear that from a great idol is difficult."
For four months, between December 2007 and March 2008, the running blades Pistorius uses were illegal in able-bodied competition. The controversy catapulted him on to the front pages but Pistorius turns surly when the topic comes up now.
The blades he uses now are the same ones he was on then and it is ironic that he responded to defeat by attacking his rival, just as others once attacked him.
The two men will race again in both the T44 100m and the T44 400m. Pistorius, the poster boy of the Paralympics, could be hard pushed to win either event.
The signature star may have lost a little of his lustre, but the Games have gained a rivalry that will shape how they are remembered in years to come.
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image: © ell brown