Pistorius-Singleton showdown looms at Paralympics
DALLAS -- Jerome Singleton is all for fellow Paralympian Oscar Pistorius running against able-bodied athletes at the London Olympics.
Under one condition.
"If you run the 400 meters, when you come to the Paralympics, I don't want any excuses," Singleton said Tuesday, the final day of the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit. "Don't say you're tired. Be ready to race."
The South African may be the world's most famous Paralympian, but he is no longer the fastest. That honor now belongs to Singleton.
Two years after finishing second by a mere .03 seconds in the 100 meters at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, Singleton edged Pistorius at last year's world championships. It was the first time in seven years Pistorius had lost a 100-meter Paralympic race.
Singleton is the first U.S. man to win gold in the 100 at the worlds or Paralympic Games since 2004.
"The rivalry is really important," said Alana Nichols, a member of the U.S. wheelchair basketball team that won gold in Beijing. "Oftentimes, when people think of the Paralympics, they think of athletes overcoming disabilities and adversity. While that's true, for us it's about going and competing and winning. It's about the rivalries. It's about fighting and the fractions of a second between gold and silver."
Born without a fibula, Singleton's right leg was amputated below the knee when he was 18 months old. His parents never made an issue of his disability, treating him the same as they did their other children. He ran track like his sister and played basketball. He was a good enough football player -- he played strong safety -- to be ranked among the top 100 prospects in South Carolina his senior year in high school.
Because Singleton didn't know any other people with physical disabilities when he was growing up, he never thought playing with the other kids at school and in the neighborhood was unique.
"You don't call them able-bodied," he said. "They're your friends."
Singleton passed up a chance to play football in college, instead accepting a full academic scholarship to Morehouse College, where he majored in mathematics and applied physics. That looked like the end of his athletic career, but as he did some research into different walking and running limbs in 2006, he came across information on the Paralympics.
By the end of the year, he was the U.S. bronze medalist in the 100.
"I recognize if I wasn't born during this era, we wouldn't have the kind of technology we have today," Singleton said. "If I was born 20, 30 years ago, you wouldn't have a chance to be competitive."
Pistorius, the world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, has raised the profile of all Paralympians with his pursuit of the Olympics. The double-amputee was initially banned by international track officials, who said his carbon-fiber blades gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes. The ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport three months before the Beijing Olympics, but Pistorius failed to meet the qualifying standard for the 400 meters.
He has beaten the 45.30 qualifying mark twice and needs to do it one more time outside of South Africa before June 30 in order to earn a spot at the London Olympics.
"When Oscar made the world championships team, I sent him an email -- I'm not going to call long distance -- saying, `Congratulations, you've done so much for this sport. I need to get on your level," Singleton said. "And hopefully together we're going to take this thing to a level that hasn't been seen in a while. It's a golden era in amputee sprinting."
So much so that Singleton has more commercial opportunities than some able-bodied athletes.
Singleton would have had no problem getting a job after he graduated from Michigan, where he transferred to finish his degree in mathematics and applied physics and added another in industrial engineering. He had already done internships at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland -- he worked on an engine for the Mars landing and technology that will help detect cataracts -- and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
But he wanted to see what he could accomplish if he trained full-time, and deals with Nike, BP, Gillette and Ossur have made that possible.
"The Paralympic movement? We're on the tipping point," Singleton said. "We're right there. We're on the cusp of exploding. If we show the marketability of the athletes and the marketability of the sport gets there, then we'll have opportunities."
Unlike Pistorius, the Olympics are not Singleton's ultimate goal. The talent pool in the United States is so much deeper than what Pistorius faces in South Africa that Singleton knows it would be impossible for him to earn one of America's three spots in any of the sprint distances. He does want to run fast enough to qualify for a spot in the Olympic trials at some point, however.
But unlike some, Singleton has no problems with Pistorius aiming high.
"When it comes to Oscar, he's going to try to be the best in the world at what he does," Singleton said. "There's a lot of things around the world for us to worry about than if someone has an advantage or disadvantage when they're running on a spring leg. There's hunger. There's the energy crisis. There's wars.
"I'd say get out there and try to be the best at what you do."
Follow Nancy Armour at www.twitter.com/nrarmour
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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