Oscar Pistorius

Remembering Nelson Mandela

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- The Olympic Games produce moments. Those moments become memories. Those memories inspire the hopes and dreams of generations. At the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games, Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia would win the women's 10,000-meter run, the first black African female gold medalist in Olympic history. After Tulu crossed the finish line, it took Elana Meyer, a white South African, almost six seconds more to get there. A few more steps past the finish line, Mayer found Tulu. They kissed. Then, hand-in-hand, they ran together, black and white, first and second, yes, but equals in sport and spirit, symbols of hope and possibility for South Africa, for all of Africa, indeed the world.

Because of its apartheid policies, South Africa had been banished from the Olympics after the Rome 1960 Games. Barcelona 1992 marked its return to the world stage. Those Olympics took place about two and a half years after Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

June 2004, the Athens Games relay: Nelson Mandela with the Olympic flame on Robben Island //  photo: Getty Images

Mandela was then 74. In the hours before the South African team would march in the opening ceremony, he arrived in the Olympic Village to speak to the team. This, as a Sports Illustrated story reported, is what he said:

"All I want to say is that our presence here is of great significance to our country, a significance which goes beyond the boundaries of sport. Our country has been isolated for many years, not only in sports but in other fields as well. We are saying now, 'Let's forget the past. Let bygones be bygones.' I want to tell you that we respect you, we are proud of all of you and, above all, we love you."

Mandela died Thursday at 95, an icon of hope and possibility. In sport he often saw a pathway toward reconciliation.

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said Friday the Olympic movement would be mourning a "great friend and a hero of humanity."

Bach, before a meeting at IOC headquarters along Lake Geneva, recounted how he met Mandela. In telling the story the IOC president paused to collect his emotions:

It was a private gathering several years ago, Bach said, and so he could ask Mandela the question he had always wanted to ask:

"You invited to your [May, 1994, presidential] inauguration even the worst from Robben Island. Don't you feel hate?"

Bach went on:

"His immediately response was no."

The IOC president said:

"I think he saw the doubt in my eyes," the kind that says, "You don't believe."

Bach continued:

"I said, 'Mr. President, this is really hard to believe after all you have been suffering."

"He said, 'I can tell you why.'

"I said, 'Why, Mr. President?'

"He said a sentence which still gives me goosebumps today. I will never forget it. He said, 'Because if I hate, I would not be a free man.' "

Usain Bolt's tweets since the announcement of Mandela's death included these:

"Just here thinking that Mr.Mandela in prison for 27 years is how long I'v been alive..Words are inadequate to describe this man #RIPMandela"

And: "One of the greatest human beings ever..May your soul rest in peace..The worlds greatest fighter."

In sport Mandela could see beyond fight. He was often quoted as saying, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair."

Sam Ramsamy, now South Africa's IOC member, also at the meeting Friday in Lausanne, read those words once more to a hushed audience. At that inauguration 19 years ago, Ramsamy recalled, he had the honor of being the first to say aloud, "President Nelson Mandela."

Australian IOC member R. Kevan Gosper, at the Lausanne meeting as well, played a key role in bringing South Africa back into the Games. He, like Ramsamy, returned time and again Friday to Mandela's emphasis on sport as a vessel for potential and for change. And, like Bach, to the elemental humanity of Mandela himself.

In 1995, just a year after he took office, South Africa defeated New Zealand in the final of the rugby World Cup. The Springboks, as the team is known, had long been the favored sport of South Africa's white minority; for many blacks, the team -- and the mascot -- had become symbols of oppression. In the scene commemorated in the movie "Invictus," Mandela famously handed the championship trophy to the Springboks' white captain, Francois Piennar, while wearing a green jersey emblazoned with Pienaar's No. 6.

Since those years, of course, South Africa has become an even more important player in world sport. It played host to the 2010 soccer World Cup. There is talk of a bid for the 2024 or 2028 Summer Games.

To be sure, sport can not -- will not -- itself solve any nation's problems, and it will not solve South Africa's. It is nearly 20 years after Mandela's inauguration, and the country faces a range of serious challenges, including high unemployment, AIDS cases and a culture of violence. The amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who at the London 2012 Games emerged as South Africa's most celebrated sports figure, is now facing murder charges in the shooting death of his girlfriend.

Even so, as Bach on Friday ordered the Olympic flags to be lowered to half-mast for three days and Ramsamy conveyed formal IOC condolences to current South African president Jacob Zuma, there was in the remembrance of Nelson Mandela not just gratitude but a sense of bearing witness to what, with the strength of human will, could be made possible.

Sebastian Coe, the Olympic running champion who served as London 2012 chairman, now head of the British Olympic Assn., said in a statement that Mandela "recognized the unique power of sport to unite people from every walk of life."

Coe added, "The values that are at the heart of sport -- equality, opportunity and mutual understanding -- are the very same values Nelson Mandela fought to instill and uphold. He lived his life with courage and conviction, and as we mourn his passing we are grateful for the unending inspiration he has given us all."

The chairman of the International Rugby Board, Bernard Lapasset, said,  "Mr. Mandela was a truly remarkable man. I was honored to be with him during the historic days of Rugby World Cup 1995 and saw his incredible impact on his nation and his people. HIs wisdom, intelligence and sheer presence was a wonder to behold.

"I am so proud that the rugby family could play its small part in supporting Mr. Mandela's efforts to establish the new South Africa and that our tournament came to symbolize the emergence of a new nation. He changed the world and we were privileged to witness and embrace his work."

On Saturday, the IRB announced, a moment of silence will be observed at the Rugby Sevens World Series event at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. That afternoon, all 16 teams are due to join together on the playing field, wearing black armbands as a tribute.

Of course, Ramsamy said, this was a time to mourn. But, he said, also the moment when the memory of Mandela not only could but should provoke an awareness of the good -- the genuine good, as Mandela understood -- that sport can play in our broken world.

In 1995, for instance, Mandela said in a speech, "South Africa remembers with pride the magnanimity in defeat which Elana Meyer demonstrated in Barcelona, when she proclaimed with her vanquisher the sanctity of the Olympic principle that participation is more important than winning."

Bach and Ramsamy have known each other for many years. Yes, Bach said: "As Mr. Ramsamy said, we have to celebrate life. This is the direction Mr. Mandela would have given us, to celebrate life and look into the future."


Oscar Pistorius charged with murder


Oscar Pistorius had a story he would tell. You, he would tell groups of people, wake up in the morning and put on your shoes. I wake up and put on my legs.

Each March for the past two years, Oscar appeared at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona, Spain, a convention at which I served as the master of ceremonies. He brought his legs -- including the carbon-fiber blades he would run on at tracks around the world, like the ones that would go on to make him famous in London last summer. He urged everyone in the audience to hold them, touch them, pass them around. It was his way of saying, see, you're just like me and I'm just like you.

Now comes the news from South Africa that Oscar Pistorius is under arrest for homicide. His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, is dead, shot in the pre-dawn hours in a Valentine's Day slaying at at his upscale home in a gated community in South Africa's capital, Pretoria.

The Associated Press reported that officers found a 9-millimeter pistol inside the home and arrested Pistorius on a murder charge, police saying they had received calls in the past about domestic altercations in the past at his home.

It's more than shocking and stunning that she is dead and that he is facing criminal charges.

Oscar Pistorius leaving a police station Thursday in South Africa // photo Getty Images

First and foremost, her life is gone. And for what?

His life, too, is forever changed. The man who became Paralympic champion and showed the world that, despite disability, you could run in the Olympic Games -- a guy who had it all now is looking at a life behind bars.

The last few weeks have seen the fall of Lance Armstrong and -- now this. Companies quickly moved to take down advertising and billboards featuring Pistorius, who had been a national hero in South Africa, and had inspired millions worldwide with his tale of overcoming adversity.

The police said, according to AP, that no other suspect is involved in Steenkamp's death.

They also said she was shot four times.

Four shots is horrifying.

Even if the shots come in rapid-fire succession, it takes time enough to understand what you are doing to fire four times.

Of course he is presumed innocent. Of course the legal process needs to play itself out.

But there are two obvious questions:

How could this have happened?

And, if indeed Oscar Pistorius fired those shots, what in the world was going on in his mind?

The Oscar Pistorius I came to know -- after our first meeting in Barcelona -- seemed like one of the world's genuinely nice guys. We saw each other again, for instance, at the Pre Classic meet in Eugene, Ore.; a few days later, he came down to Southern California and we talked on the phone, just chit-chat, just hey, how are you, great to see you again, that kind of thing.

At the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, we talked both on the phone and in the mixed zone about his successes and his frustrations.

Pistorius was left off the South African team 4x400 relay team for the final -- despite helping the team qualify in the early rounds. In our phone call then, he seemed depressed, a quality I would see in him again. But not angry.

Then again, who wouldn't be depressed to be left off the team for the big race? At the time, it seemed understandable.

You wonder now whether Pistorius suffered from depression of the sort doctors would understand. All the years that he was putting on his legs when he looked around and saw so many others putting on shoes -- how did that make him feel, really?

There's an explanation here that, in the coming days or weeks, we surely will learn.

Because a gun doesn't fire four times without reason.

Whatever the explanation, it's not reason enough to bring back Reeva Steenkamp.

So inexplicable.

So inexplicably sad, all around.


Tim Burke's historic silver medal


There are moments in sports when all the hard work, the dreams, the belief without evidence -- it all pays off.

It finally happened Thursday for Tim Burke and the U.S. men's biathlon team at the world championships in Nove Mesto, in the Czech Republic.

Burke, 31, of Paul Smiths, N.Y., took silver in the 20-kilometer individual event, his first career world championship medal. The medal marked the first for the United States at a world championships since Josh Thompson's 20k individual silver in 1987.

Burke crossed in 50 minutes, 6.5 seconds, with one penalty. He finished 23.5 seconds behind the World Cup leader, Martin Fourcade of France, who won his first medal of the 2013 championships in 49:43 flat, with one penalty. Sweden's Fredrik Lindström took third, in 50:16.7.

Tim Burke skiing to a historic silver medal at the biathlon world championships in the Czech Republic // photo courtesy Nordic Focus and US Biathlon

The United States has never -- repeat, never -- won an Olympic medal in biathlon.

Thursday's race is of course no guarantee of anything at the Winter Games come next February.

But now Burke and the American team head to Sochi knowing with certainty that he -- and they -- are just as good as anyone else.

That is a huge emotional and mental barrier that just got crossed.


Two other Americans produced solid showings Thursday: Leif Nordgren finished 22nd, Lowell Bailey 29th.

Meanwhile, at last month's biathlon junior world championships in Obertilliach, Austria, Sean Doherty made U.S. biathlon history as well -- becoming the first to win three medals in a single championships, including gold in the 10k pursuit, emerging as a solid contender to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in the relay.

Suddenly, the Americans are no joke. They're for real.

"I don't look at it like building pressure," meaning toward Sochi, Burke said in a telephone interview. "I look at [the silver medal] as an awesome way of, 'I know I can do it.' It's not, 'Can I do it?' I know it's possible. I don't have to worry about that."

He also said, referring to the possibility of making the podium in Sochi, "I am not the only one who has been saying this. Max [Cobb, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Biathlon Federation], Bernd [Eisenbichler, the team's high performance director], everyone has been saying this to the U.S. Olympic Committee and to our sponsors: 'These guys can win medals.'

"Today proves what they have been saying is true."

It is also true that Burke's race -- and finish -- served as a reminder that sports still can, even on a day in which the headlines involving the South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius dominated so much, offer up a lesson in amity and goodwill.

Everyone in the tightly knit biathlon world knows the Americans have gone winless in the Olympics.

Everyone knows, too, that Burke wore the yellow jersey -- emblematic of the World Cup tour leader -- during the 2010 season but since then had to manage a comeback from a leg condition called "compartment syndrome" that's common to Nordic skiers.

A few weeks back, in December, at a World Cup in Slovenia, he took a third place in a 15k mass start -- his first podium finish since that 2010 season.

So he came to the worlds, which kicked off last Thursday, looking for big things. Then, though, his first two races didn't produce the results he was looking for -- tied for 28th in the 10k sprint, 32nd in the 12.5k pursuit.

The U.S. men's biathlon team celebrates Tim Burke's silver // photo courtesy Nordic Focus and U.S. Biathlon

This, though, is where the winning mental edge plays such a huge role in big-time sports.

Instead of sulking, or getting down, Burke stayed calm and focused on what was in front of him. He couldn't change what had already happened. He could only race the races still left to race.

"Today," he's said, "I felt like i was on a man on mission. I couldn't go through these championships -- after preparing all year -- and not show what I was capable of. Per [Nilsson], my coach, did a great job of shaking me up and telling me just to continue to believe in myself. He said, 'Don't you dare give up on these championships, things can change from day to day.' "

Burke drew a late start number -- 65 -- and so for most of the race he was able to shoot and ski without having any idea where he was in the standings. That also meant he didn't get caught up in his head in what was going on around him. It was just him, his skis and his gun.

It wasn't until his last time into the shooting range, when he heard the announcer say he was challenging for the gold medal, that he realized what was up. At that point, he said, "I tried not to think about it and stick to my routine." Laughing, he added, "I think I did a pretty good job. I was happy."

Out on the course, meanwhile, everyone else knew what was going on -- even if Burke didn't. Cobb, surrounded by well-wishers from other teams, could sense the excitement building as time kept ticking. As Burke skied near, and then across, the finish line, Cobb said, the scene was "just phenomenal."

Cobb said athletes, coaches and support staff from all over the world came over and high-fived the American contingent.

"It was one of those moments," Cobb said, "when you understand the role that sport can play, this notion that sport can bring the world together. That was in evidence today … in the finish line, and up on the course where I was, probably two dozen nations or more and they couldn't have been more excited for Tim and for us as this happened.

"It was," he said, "a really great moment."

LaShawn Merritt makes a statement

EUGENE, Ore. -- There was a moment when it could have been déjà vu all over again for LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James, just like last year at the world championships in Daegu, coming down the stretch in the 400. But it wasn't.

Instead, this was a clear case of role reversal.

Which means it's really on heading into London. Because, as Merritt observed, this was a field so loaded it sure looked like an Olympic final Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic.

Last year in Daegu, James caught Merritt about three meters from the finish line, then passed him to become the first-ever medalist from Grenada. Now 19, James is a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Alabama.

On Saturday, Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, clearly showing that he has returned to form, caught James coming down the stretch. He poured it on for a decisive victory, finishing in 44.91 seconds.

James finished in 44.97.

You won't find that 44.97 in the official records of the race.

Officially, James didn't even run.

He false-started, and then ran the race under protest, a protest that was promptly denied.

James -- this is an amazing statistic -- has never lost a race run outdoors. Because this race will show in the books as a DQ, it won't count against that mark.

To James, however, it felt like a loss. Which, let's be real -- it was.

"Of course, it's a loss," he said. "I actually ran the race."

He said of the false-start, offering no excuses, "It's entirely my fault," adding he was simply "anticipating too much."

And he said, "It's a learning experience. I'd rather have it happen here" than, say, the Olympic final.

Christopher Brown of the Bahamas was upgraded to second. He finished in 45.24.

Angelo Taylor of the United States was moved up to third. His time: 45.59.

American Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 400 Olympic champ, was not a factor. He was bumped up to fifth in the final standings, at 45.58.

Oscar Pistorius, the South African "Blade Runner" who needs to run under 45.30 one more time to meet his nation's qualifying standards for the London Games ran 46.86.

He ran 45.20 in March.

"Today, there is nobody to blame but myself," he said.

Usain Bolt is far and away the best-known name in the world in track and field. No one else -- for emphasis, no one -- is close. Pistorius is arguably second; all over the world, people are rooting for him to make it.

He has two, perhaps three, more chances, including next week in New York.

"It's not nice as an athlete when you've worked hard and the times aren't coming but that's part of the game sometimes," Pistorius said. "I have to re-focus after this and get some fuel in the tank for the next race."

It is of course conceivable that Pistorius does not meet the 45.30 time again. If not?

"I guess then I won't go," he said. "They haven't given us that side of the coin. The requirement is that we have to run the time twice."

For Merritt, it's all coming together. Last year, he was just coming back from a lengthy suspension served after taking a male-enhancement product. "In Daegu," he said, "there were a lot of things I did that my mind and my body didn't connect."

That is, he would tell himself to go faster -- but there was no there there.

This year, it's there.

"It's a matter of your mind and your body connecting," he said. "I've worked on some things. I came here and I knew what that race was going to be."

He also said, looking forward to the Trials, "I'm coming to run." So, too, are the others: "Everybody's coming to run this year," LaShawn Merritt said, with a smile that said he was ready for anyone and everyone to bring it on.

Oscar Pistorius and the power of will

DAEGU, South Korea -- It took 45 seconds, more or less, for Oscar Pistorius to show the world, again and emphatically, that sport holds no barriers to the power of will. Running on prosthetic devices that he puts on the way able-bodied athletes slip on shoes, Pistorius, the South African whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, turned 400 meters at the track and field world championships in 45.39 seconds, third-fastest in his heat, plenty fast to move him into Monday's semifinal.

It's not the case that walls of every sort came hurtling down because Pistorius raced here Sunday.

But it may well be that sport was forever changed.

Swimmer Natalie du Toit, who is also from South Africa, competed in the  2008 Beijing Olympics in the open-water swim; her left leg had been amputated at the knee as a teen-ager after she had been in an accident. Natalia Partyka, a Polish table tennis player, also took part in the Beijing Olympics; she was born without a right hand and forearm.

Even so, track and field remains the most important of the Olympic sports and Pistorius' case has generated publicity and controversy of a far different magnitude than either du Toit's or Partyka's.

Watching him run on his blades is a very different thing than watching du Toit swim or Partyka bat a little plastic ball. Running is, after all, elemental.

To get the okay to run on the blades against able-bodied athletes in the first instance took the okay of sport's top tribunal, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.  Along the way, Pistorius became widely known in the press as the "Blade Runner."

Then, well after the legal case had been decided, some sport scientists started arguing that the blades gave Pistorius an unfair advantage against "ordinary" runners. Others said that was nonsense.

Big picture-wise, the matter launched an extensive debate world-wide about the technological boundaries of what's fair and what's not in sport.

Here, all of that was just noise.

Here, Pistorius got the ultimate respect.

To the others in the field -- he was just another guy in the race. He was somebody who might on a good day be a threat, and threats have to be dealt with.

"I know it's not easy, going through all this, and then coming to compete at a major championship," Chris Brown of the Bahamas, who won Pistorius' heat, in 45.29, said. "I wish him all the best, you know. But I came here to prevail."

American LaShawn Merritt, who raced two heats earlier, running a world-leading 44.35, said of Pistorius, "He ran the time to get here. I've had a little time to talk to him. He's a great person. He's dedicated and motivated. A great heart. I wish all the best to him."

Pistorius ran Sunday in Lane 8, all the way on the outside of the track. Like everyone else, he took off at the sound of the gun when, bang, the gun went off again. A false start.

A sense of dread settled over the stadium. But not over Pistorius. "I knew it was somebody else," he said, and it was -- Abdou Razack Rabo Samma of Nigeria, in Lane 5, who was promptly escorted out.

The gun went off again, and in Lane 7 Femi Ogunode of Qatar went out hard. Within 20 meters he was already ahead of Pistorius. But Pistorius did not press.

On Saturday night, Pistorius said, he had looked up Ogunode's best 400 times; Ogunode's best-ever was 45.12 last November and his 2011 best was 47.79 in April.

"Before my races, I research every single guy in the race, to know if he's playing a game or if he thinks he's got false hope," Pistorius said. So if Ogunode wanted to go out early now -- not to worry.

Over in Lane 6 -- there was Tony McQuay, the American, who had run a 44.68 in Eugene in June. Now there was someone to keep up with, Pistorius said, and that was the plan.

Indeed, for a brief moment at the top of the homestretch, Pistorius even held the lead.

Then McQuay started laboring. The thing about racing is you always have to adjust. Just go hard, Pistorius told himself, and you'll be in the semifinal.

It turned out that McQuay had a bad hamstring. He finished sixth.

Pistorius finished behind only Brown and Martyn Rooney of Great Britain, who crossed in a season-best 45.30.

"It's one thing getting here," Pistorius said after the race. "It's another thing being consistent here. I ran my second-fastest time," 32-hundredths off the 45.07 last month in Italy that got him here in the first instance, "and I'm happy with that."

That 45.07 was a nearly perfect effort, and at the world championships, you pretty much have to run in the 44s to be in the final eight. So it's hugely unlikely Pistorius makes the final.

No matter. Pistorius' first-round run in the 2011 track and field world championships was, by any measure, an extraordinary success. He was asked if he feels like a trailblazer and modestly said, no. "I don't really feel like a pioneer," he said.

That's not so. Here Sunday, Oscar Pistorius made history. He ran with the guys, and he was just one of them.

Passion and purpose -- the AIPS 'young reporters' program

SHENZEN, China -- The 60 "young reporters" from all over the world had spent their first two mornings in "school" listening to and then asking questions -- lots of questions -- of the secretary-general of sport's top court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and then the senior media manager of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Heavy, heady stuff from and for Matthieu Reeb of CAS and Terence O'Rorke of WADA.

Now it was my turn, as program director of this first-ever AIPS "young reporters" Summer University Games program, to ask the questions -- not only to see what they had learned but what they could teach us, all of us, amid so much concentrated talk of legal maneuvering and doping jargon.

In a couple weeks, I said, the track and field world championships will take place in Daegu, South Korea. How many of you, I asked, believe the eight guys who ultimately make it to the starting blocks in the men's 100-meter dash finals will be doping-free? Not one hand went up.

I looked around the room. The 2011 Tour de France ran last month, I said. Some people believe it was cleaner than previous Tours. How many of you believe the 2011 Tour was clean? Maybe three hands went up.

And yet -- here's the remarkable thing.

There isn't in this group even a hint of cynicism.

Indeed, on Day One of this program, before "school" launched, we asked each of the 60 young people to take the brave step of getting up on stage and saying a few words into our camera, with all the others watching. Most everyone in the group is in their early 20s; a couple are still in their teens; a few are still in university; others are already working at print and broadcast outlets.

Predictably, some were shy. And then there was Julio Bonnin Cadogan of Paraguay, who got right up and said, you know what, sport is a force for good -- it can do no less than help us all overcome racism in our world, and that's why I'm here, to write stories as an agent for change.

The idealism, the enthusiasm, the curiosity that these young people have brought with them to Shenzhen offer great reminders of why journalism matters -- despite the profound elements re-shaping journalism, and the business of journalism, in these early years of the 21st century.

Too, why a program such as this one can make such a difference in the years and careers of young journalists, and in the legacies of hosts such as Shenzhen 2011.

Here were just a smattering of the smart questions that O'Rorke got asked:

Why isn't Major League Baseball part of the world doping code umbrella?

What is WADA's relationship with Interpol?

What is WADA's view on the propriety of a national Olympic committee entering into a deal with a supplement company?

Reeb, among other matters, was asked to explain in detail the case involving the South African Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee popularly known as the "Blade Runner." (Since being cleared to run by CAS against able-bodied competitors, Pistorius has now met the qualifying standards to compete in the 400 at the forthcoming Daegu championships.)

Similarly, Reeb also was asked to explain the background and reasoning about the case involving the Brazilian swimmer Cesar Cielo, cleared by a CAS panel to swim at the just-concluded 2011 swimming world championships in Shanghai. (There, Cielo won gold in both the 50-meter freestyle and butterfly.)

It's not just idealism, energy and enthusiasm that's on display here in Shenzhen. There's one further element, and it's the ultimate difference maker.

It's passion.

As I write this, it's 12:45 in the morning.

Kelsey Wingerak of Canada is herself in the midst of writing three stories about tonight's Serbia-Canada men's basketball game (won by Canada in a big upset -- the Serbs won the University Games title four years ago).

Jonathan Mishal of Israel just sat down in our 11th-floor workroom here at the Shenzhen Shanghai Hotel to bang out his story. The piece he wrote the day before for his hometown paper -- he just sent that to me as a .pdf, in full-on color.

Thorkell Sigurbjornsson of Iceland, who is a TV guy, just tried his hand at a newspaper-style piece. It just dropped into my e-mail inbox.

A few moments ago, Ozan Can Sülüm of Turkey filed not just one but two stories. "Not sure they need editing," he assured me in a side note.

And then there is Alex Bendaña of Nicaragua, who after just these few days is already a legend. He has cadged more free taxi rides than one would have imagined possible in this sprawling city. How he has done so, because his first language is Spanish and his English is quite good but his Chinese is non-existent -- no one is quite sure.

Alex announced he is staying up, or waking up, at 4 this morning to catch the Real Madrid-Barcelona soccer game, the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.

Class gets underway again at 10. At best, Alex will be working on three hours sleep. He promised he would be there.


Jerome Singleton, Paralympic champion

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, arguably the most famous  cheetah-footed athlete of our time, hadn't lost in the 100 meters in a major competition since the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Until Wednesday.

Jerome Singleton of the United States out-leaned Pistorius at the tape to win the category T44 100 meters at the International Paralympic Committee track and field world championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It's immediately unclear, of course, how the result plays out for Pistorius. It arguably is the best thing that could have happened to Paralympic sport.

There never has been, really, a great Paralympic rivalry to capture the world's attention. Now, maybe, there can be one.

It is unequivocally fantastic for the Paralympics and for Pistorius -- the "Blade Runner" -- that he has emerged as the world-class talent that he is. The logical next step is for the world to see that he is far from alone.

In the same spirit, while Pistorius is an amazing story -- Singleton is, too.

In a telephone interview as Thursday dawned in New Zealand, Singleton said of Pistorius, "Oscar is a phenomenal athlete. He has broken down barriers for the Paralympic movement. He has opened people's eyes -- that is, if you have a disability, you can take it to the next level …

"Oscar lets you know that you can do better and be better. You can look at the cup as half empty or half full -- or always look at it as half full and try to fill it even more."

Turning the focus to the track, stressing again that he views Pistorius as a "great person" and praising him as the longtime champion, Singleton also said, "Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Larry Byrd had Magic Johnson. Usain Bolt has Tyson Gay," emphasizing, "In track and field, you want rivalries."

Like Pistorius, Singleton is 24 years old. Singleton comes from South Carolina. He has an older sister, Shalena, 29, and a younger brother, Anthony, 21. Jerome has earned three university degrees in the past six years, from Morehouse College and Michigan, and in these disciplines: math and applied physics, and industrial and operational engineering.

Singleton won a silver medal at the Beijing Games in the 100, behind Pistorius. Understand -- he won silver while going to school in highly demanding fields of study.

Singleton finished school in Ann Arbor in December. Now he gets to train full-time.

Again, and for emphasis -- now he can train full-time.

Singleton lost his right foot when he was just a year and a half old, in the wake of a birth defect, he said. His father, also named Jerome, and mother, Jacqueline, stressed the value of hard work and dedication. The son's high school grade point average was better than a 4.0; he also played high-school football, basketball and ran track.

"Being an amputee, unless I was two times or three times as good as my competitors, [a coach] was always going to choose an able-bodied competitor," the son says now, his father's words with him still.

"My dad also said, when you're a single-legged amputee you're not going to have the ability to turn as quickly. I was just going to have to work and to work smart."

He ran a smart race Wednesday in what was, by any measure, a great race. All seven finishers crossed in under 12 seconds. Only nine-hundredths of a second separated the first- and fourth-place finishers. Both Singleton and Pistorius were timed in 11.34.

Singleton won because he leaned so hard he fell over the line. "There's a lot of me that won't be leaving New Zealand," he told reporters immediately afterward. "But it was all worth it."

Pistorius, to his credit, told reporters in New Zealand after the race, referring to Singleton, "He was the better man on the day. He has been improving all the time and he is a champion in the making."

The 400-meter relay comes Saturday.

The Paralympic Games -- in London in 2012. "I brought the worlds back," Singleton said on the phone. "Now it's time to bring back the big one."

Number 50 in your game-day program, Steven Contreras

The thing about Steven Contreras being back on the football field, which of course is extraordinary, is that it's really not. Eight months to the day after doctors amputated the lower part of his left leg, Steven, who is a 16-year-old high school junior, got back in for about a dozen plays in the game that clinched the league championship. Last week, even though that knee was sore, he played again as his school, Rolling Hills Prep, moved to 8-1.

Five or six or 10 years from now, when Steven is bigger and stronger, maybe he competes for the United States in the Paralympic Games. Or maybe not.

It doesn't matter.

What matters is the change the Paralympic movement has wrought. That change has come incrementally and surely has yet to be fully realized -- there being some 21 million people in the United States with a physical disability.

The years have nevertheless ushered in that change. And it is powerful and undeniable. It is emphatic and it is real. It does nothing less than give young people like Steven hope.

"That," he said of the Paralympics, "is something I would definitely love to do."

Yes, Steven has lost part of a leg. No, he won't ever again be the same. But he can -- he will -- still be "normal," able to live his life to the fullest, just like the able-bodied kids around him -- who, and this is a key part of the change, too, treat him "normally."

That is the power of the Paralympics. It makes it all -- whatever it is, even something as definitively American as football, a sport that isn't even part of the Paralympic scene -- so much more "normal."

"It has been really inspiring," sophomore Kevin Kole, Rolling Hills Prep's punter and place-kicker, said of Steven's determination to get back into uniform, a testament to Steven's own mental fortitude, Steven's faith and the love and support of his parents, coaches, teammates and others.

The way that inspiration manifested itself, and the way Kevin describes it, is the telling part: "He was always trying, always at practice every day. But his leg wasn't ready," by which Kevin meant both Steven's left leg and one or another of the prostheses Steven would be trying.

"He kept getting new legs," Kevin said. "They kept breaking because he kept jumping and running. This one now, it works -- but we had to wrap it in all this foam."

Just a matter-of-fact recitation about how to solve what is, well, an equipment issue.

Because once that was solved, of course Steven would be playing -- right?

Rolling Hills Prep is an independent co-educational secular school for grades six through 12 in San Pedro, Calif., about a half-hour south of downtown Los Angeles on the eastern slope of the Palos Verdes peninsula.

It was during football season last year, Steven's sophomore year, that his left ankle started bothering him.

He couldn't figure it out. He would just fall, for seemingly no reason. One time, he recalled, he fell after he thought he'd gotten hit. No, someone said -- you just fell. "I said, you've got to have this looked at," the football coach, Frank Frisina, recalled.

Steven's mom, Valerie, 46, is a longshoreman. His dad, Steve, 47, is a Los Angeles County welding foreman. They took him to one of those urgent-care facilities to check out the ankle. It's not broken, they were told there, but you really have to see an orthopedic specialist, and right away.

The day before Thanksgiving, the specialists told Steve and Val that their son had a bone tumor, a kind of cancer called Ewing's sarcoma, in his left ankle.

Last Dec. 5, Steven started chemotherapy.

Over the next four months, he became very good friends with a little boy, Nathaniel Robert Arteaga, not yet even in kindergarten, who was also undergoing chemo. "If this little boy is doing it, we can do it -- we can beat it," Steven would tell his mom.

For those months, Steven and his little buddy carried each other through the routine of chemo. For all that time, Steven wasn't in significant pain. He could get up and around. He could dance.

But the cancer wouldn't go away. The fear was it would spread.

On March 5, doctors amputated Steven's left leg, about where the calf muscle ends.

"The only time he was down was right after the surgery," Val said. "They didn't have his meds quite right. He looked down and said, 'Oh, it's really gone.' "

Steven remembers that. But he also describes it like this: "That was the turning point for me. Okay, it's gone. They need to do this to save my life and I'm okay with it."

How quickly, he wanted to know, could he play ball again? "That was my main goal," he said. "To get back on the football field with my brothers."

Understand that Rolling Hills Prep is not one of those mammoth California public high schools that produce reams of Division I scholarship athletes. In all, about 235 kids attend all seven grades. The school plays eight-man football. About two dozen boys are on the team.

This is Frisina's sixth year as head coach. When he started, he brought with him a saying: "Hold the rope." He meant to teach the boys that they were in it, football and life itself, together: "If you're falling off a cliff, you're dangling off a cliff, who's going to hold that rope for you? Your teammates."

After Steven's diagnosis, with the okay of teammates and alumni, they took the original rope and put it in a frame and gave it to him. The team also held a car wash and some other events to start a fund for the upgraded and expensive prosthetic Steven wants, made by the same company that makes the device sprinter Oscar Pistorius runs on.

"He didn't want to let anyone down," his mother said. ""His coaches, his friends, his parents -- he knew everybody was watching. I think he just wanted to prove to himself, too -- he saw other amputees do it, and he felt that if they could do it he could do it.

"I don't know," she said, marveling at her son's willpower. "He's so young. The thought of losing his life at such a young age -- he had so many hopes and dreams yet to accomplish. The thought of not reaching those goals -- he wasn't going to stand for that."


"He said, 'Coach, as soon as I get the stent out of my chest, I can play -- they're going to clear me,' " Frisina recalled. "I said, 'Steven, as long as you get cleared by the doctor and the parents, we'll get you back in shape and make sure you put in the time and if it's okay for you to play -- you've got it.' "

Learning to walk again with a prosthetic device can take weeks. "I only used crutches that first day," Steven said. "I was determined I was going to be playing football this season. Within three weeks to a month, I was walking without a limp."

Frisina said, "You talk about there being heroes -- this kid has faced everything head-on. But this kid doesn't see that. He says there are other people out there who are stronger. I tell you, if there are, I haven't met them."

A couple weeks ago, Steven brought Frisina a doctor's note. It said he was cleared to play.

In eight-man ball, there's a 45-point mercy rule. In its final regular-season game, against an L.A. school called Ribet Academy, Rolling Hills Prep roared out to a big first-quarter lead. After that, in came Steven, the prosthetic wrapped up in all that foam.

"You could tell the buzz along the bleachers," Frisina said. "He was fired up."

Steven played a few plays, then came out. He came right over to Frisina.

"He said, 'Can I go back in?'

"I said, 'You can go back in but let's do this right.' "

After the game, a 47-0 Rolling Hills Prep Huskies victory, Steven was sporting a big bruise on his right arm. Pretty normal.

This past weekend, in the Huskies' first-round playoff game, Steven got in for about a half-dozen plays in the Huskies' 47-14 defeat of Nuview Bridge, from Nuevo, Calif., near Riverside.

Maybe Rolling Hills Prep gets by Windward, another L.A. school, this week. Maybe not.

Does it really matter?

Val didn't even get to see her son play last weekend. She was manning the snack shack, cooking burgers and hot dogs. "It felt like things were normal," she said.

She also said, "It's happening so fast. I can't believe he's pushing himself to not just get back to normal but pushing himself to help other people. I'm, like, maybe you shouldn't be doing all this. Let's breathe a little. Let's make sure your health is good."

"He has a lot of people praying for him. He has a lot of support. I just told him," and here she laughed because she knew that what she would say next was exactly what you'd expect, so very normal, "make sure your grades stay good."