London 2012: Oscar Pistorius eager to make Olympic mark
It has become a grimly familiar scene this summer as another Olympic hopeful splashes around a rain-sodden track under leaden skies and thudding rain.
Except this is not Birmingham or Crystal Palace. This is the normally sun-kissed town of Gemona in northern Italy.
Not that Oscar Pistorius minds. Four years ago, the double amputee athlete known as "Blade Runner" says he would have cancelled a training session in these conditions. Now he relishes them.
"When you're competing, you don't have the choice of what the weather will be like," smiled the South African.
The Oscar Pistorius story
- Born without the fibula bone in either of his legs, both were amputated below the knee before he learned to walk
- Using prosthetic limbs, Pistorius enjoyed an active childhood and became an accomplished athlete in secondary school
- Aged 16, he suffered a serious knee injury while playing rugby. He began track running as part of his rehabilitation and soon discovered he was a gifted sprinter
- Pistorius had only been running eight months when he won gold in the 200m and bronze in the 100m at the 2004 Athens Paralympics
The traditional view is that Pistorius's carbon-fibre blades do not like the rain. I gently break the news that Britain has just had the wettest June on record.
"It really doesn't affect me," he insisted. "I ran one of my fastest times in the New York Diamond League meeting last year. It was raining pretty hard then.
"Hopefully all the rain's come down now. But even if that's an optimistic approach, we're prepared to run in whatever weather comes our way."
Pistorius, 25, is certainly a very different athlete to the one who won three Paralympic golds in Beijing in 2008.
Having lost two stone, he is leaner and quicker. And now he is an Olympic athlete too, having been selected by South Africa to run the 400m in London - the first double amputee to run at the Games.
Recalling the moment he discovered he had been selected, Pistorius added: "We were just working out in the gym when my coach's wife came in.
"She was quite emotional, so I thought either I'd made the team - or something's gone wrong at home.
"It was overwhelming. I won't fully believe it until I'm in London in the starting blocks."
But Pistorius's selection has also revived a well-worn debate. He was initially banned from the Olympics, because the athletics authorities thought his blades gave him an unfair advantage.
After lengthy scientific tests, he successfully overturned the ban in 2008.
But some within the sport - like reigning Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt - have been asking fresh questions and Pistorius is clearly exasperated by the sceptics.
Pistorius in 2012
Best 400m time: 45.52 seconds in Porto Novo on 29 June. That is still short of his personal best time of 45.07 set in 2011. But it is better than the 47.79 he ran to clinch gold at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008
How does that compare with the fastest 400m of 2012? Pistorius is still some way off beating LaShawn Merritt's 44.12 in June
And what is the 400m world record? Michael Johnson's mark of 43.18 has stood for 13 years
"You always get the guy who wants to argue that wet is dry or blue is green," said Pistorius, who has also been selected for the 4x400m relay squad at the Olympics.
"That's their energy they're wasting. Mine is on the track.
"We've done so many tests. Out of the tens of thousands of prosthetic legs they've made, there's never been any other [Paralympic] 400m athlete to run under 50 seconds. So - if this was such a technologically advanced leg - then how come not everyone's qualifying for the Olympics?
"I've been given this phenomenal talent and I work extremely hard to be where I am."
Pistorius says his goal at the Olympics is to qualify for the semi-finals - as he did at the World Championships in Daegu last year - and to record a personal best.
His presence at the Olympics would seem to remove one of sport's last remaining barriers, but in Pistorius's eyes barriers have never existed.
"My parents didn't give me any scope to feel sorry for myself," he said. "They were just like 'go play with your brother, go climb a tree, go fall off your motorbike, do whatever you want. Don't come crying to us when you get scratched. You've got prosthetic legs - that's very nice. Your brother's going to put on his shoes. You put on your legs and off you go.'
"That was the kind of mentality I grew up with."
And behind the charming, laid-back demeanour, Pistorius warns he is more focused than ever.
"I want to wake up every day and feel that I'm training harder than my competitors, that I'm dieting harder, that I'm recovering better," he said.
"That's what gives me confidence when I'm lining up on the blocks.
"I've never gone out to prove people wrong. I just want to be the best that I can possibly be."