World class athletes command respect but just as inspiring are disabled athletes who compete at the very top against able-bodied peers.
Natalie du Toit of South Africa, Manuel de los Santos of the Dominican Republic, Oscar Pistorius of South Africa and Italian Alex Zanardi have shown the way.
AdvertisementSouth African 'Bladerunner' Oscar Pistorius may have been banned from competing in the Beijing Olympics with his carbon fibre blade attachments but one can only marvel at his achievements.
The disabled sprinter, who had both his legs amputated below the knee as a child, has been prevented from competing in China after a scientific study revealed that he used 25 percent less energy than able-bodied runners to run at the same speed.
Pistorius finished second in the 400m 'B' race at the Rome Golden League meeting in July 2007 against top able-bodied athletes, clocking 46.90sec.
Pistorius's paralympic world record of 46.34secs for 400m is some way behind the best times by able-bodied runners.
The fastest time of an athlete still competing is 43.50 set by American Jeremy Wariner, while the world record stands at 43.18, set by compatriot Michael Johnson.
And what of Manuel de Los Santos, who lives in France but comes from the Dominican Republic, and whose loss of a left leg has not stopped him competing at the highest level in French domestic golf competitions.
When he swings his club, he removes his prosthetic left leg and balances on his right leg.
He wins most events for disabled people but he has become the first amputee to play in the French Grand Prix alongside able-bodied golfers.
He told l'Equipe magazine: "My aim is to be among the best handicapped golfers in the world and to continue to play in the Grand Prix series against able-bodied athletes."
De Los Santos was hit by a car in a motorcycle accident which meant he lost his left leg and he came to Europe with his French girlfriend Elena.
South African Natalie Du Toit made history at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester when she reached the final of the 800m freestyle, becoming the first athlete with a disability to qualify for an able-bodied final in a major competition.
She also won gold in the multi-disability 50m and 100m freestyle races at the Manchester Games.
She broke four world records in one day (heats and finals) in her category's 50m and 100m freestyle.
Alex Zanardi lost both his legs in an accident in 2001 while racing Champ Cars in Germany.
Fitted with prosthetic limbs, he went on to compete against able-bodied drivers in the BMW World Touring Car Championship, using specially-adapted hand controls.
Earlier in his career, the Italian won the Champ Car crown twice, drove for F1 teams Minardi and Lotus between 1991-94 and Williams in 1999.
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