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Team GB’s Jonnie Peacock astonished everyone watching the T44 men’s 100m race on the evening of Thursday, September 6, 2012. (Photo credit: Sporting Life)

The Olympic Stadium was filled to capacity. Channel 4 commentators told us the crowd noise was deafening. Back in the studio the day before, Clare Balding told us we would definitely ‘not want to miss’ the stand-off race between South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius and Brazil’s Alan Oliveira. It would be the Battle of the Blades (my words).

Of course, there were other star runners, too. American notables such as Blake Leeper and Jerome Singleton were in the lineup. There was also a lad representing Great Britain named Jonnie Peacock.  Mmm, okay, we thought. He was a bit young, but good on him for qualifying in record time. Paralympics viewers at home knew him from the BT Ambassador idents. If I remember rightly, one of his soundbites ended with the words, ‘I hate losing’.

Soon, after a false start, they were out of the starting blocks. Suddenly, Peacock bolted to take the lead, head down for a good running stance.

Oliveira wasn’t even in the picture. Nor was Leeper. Pistorius came fourth. (He admitted later that the 100m was not his speciality.)

Peacock had crossed the finish line in a Paralympic record of 10.90 seconds.

Immediately afterward, he told interviewers that he could have done better!

Ironically, Peacock’s childhood inspiration had been none other than Oscar Pistorius, whom he’d just beaten.  Pistorius gave the 19-year old Englishman an affectionate hug.  He later said:

What people were able to witness tonight was one of the greatest performances in the 100m. It was the beginning of a phenomenal career for Jonnie Peacock. I think he’s going to represent the sport really well. He epitomises professional sprinting, not just as a Paralympic athlete but as one of the world’s best.

Sports pundits are already calling Peacock the Usain Bolt of Paralympian blade running.

However, Peacock’s life wasn’t such a golden journey to the top. As the Telegraph described his early childhood in Cambridgeshire:

You are five years old. You contract meningococcal septicaemia. In a ­hospital bed you come round one day to find a space where your lower right leg used to be. Childhood turns dark.

Think back to when you were five and how you reacted to a scraped knee or cut finger. Now imagine how you would have reacted if you not only were in hospital but were missing part of your leg — forever.

There wasn’t just the one operation, however. Several more were required because of infections from the friction of the prosthesis against the child’s stump. Each operation removed more infected tissue.

The Telegraph described an ITV Anglia film showed Peacock as a young schoolboy (emphases mine):

We see little Jonnie hopping around the classroom in his yellow polo shirt and blonde mop. His headteacher recalls the tears that sprinkled the playing field as he bounced to the line. He refused to allow the school to modify the contest for his benefit. From the outset he disliked special treatment and he shied away from help.

Peacock also tried ballet as a youngster, but that was relatively unsuccessful. He returned to running with a vengeance:

Less than two years ago, Peacock started training seriously at Lea Valley in north London. His progress was spectacular. He had been inspired by Pistorius and began calling his older South African colleague “a mentor.” Then came the big breakthrough: a world record of 10.85 sec in Indianapolis in July. The old mark had endured for five years. Here in London he ran a joint-Paralympic record of 11.08 sec to earn his place in lane six of a high-class field and then lowered that mark again in the finale.

Peacock remembers his teacher telling the class that London had won the 2012 Olympic bidding race but he had yet to take up sprinting seven years ago. He runs with a St Christopher that belonged to his grandad. In his kitbag carries only: “My leg, Vaseline, towel and spikes.” His grandfather played for Liverpool and Everton and he pledged his own allegiance to the red half of town.

Peacock kissed his St Christopher medal before the race.

Asked about the crutches he used at the age of six, Peacock says:

First of all, I couldn’t really do it. I kept falling down. I don’t fall down [now].

In other words, don’t dwell on what I was at age six getting used to a new life. Look where that new life took me.

And all this from watching Oscar Pistorius on television.

The wall-to-wall coverage of the London Paralympics has inspired many parents and disabled children that the ‘impossible’ is indeed possible — and a reality.

Able-bodied people were equally enthralled. I watched the coverage every day and saw my neighbours leave the house on Friday to journey into London for the day’s events. The husband was wearing an older Paralympics t-shirt and hat.

‘Inspiring a generation’? You bet!

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