Olympics 2012: Team USA's Athletes Gunning for London Gold

Speed Demon: Paralympian Jerome Singleton

Jerome Singleton
Victoria Will/AP

The difference between the two best amputee sprinters in the world becomes obvious as soon as the gun sounds. Jerome Singleton, compact and muscular, erupts from the blocks and quickly separates from the 100m field in Beijing. Far behind him, moving in such slow motion that he looks like he's operating at a different frame rate, is the "Blade Runner," Oscar Pistorius, the world record holder at this distance.

At 50 meters, however, something changes. Pistorius revs dramatically up to speed and begins to pass other runners, his two prosthetic limbs cycling into a smooth blur. Singleton, whose right foot was amputated when he was 18 months old, has only one blade, which gives him an advantage at the start but adds a hitch to his stride that worsens as he nears the finish. Pistorius reels him in and wins, barely.

It was a different story at the world championships last year, when Singleton held off an onrushing Pistorius by the slimmest of margins to hand the South African his first defeat in a Paralympic 100m in seven years and set up one of the best mano-a-mano duels in London this summer, a showdown that Singleton describes in epic terms.

"Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Magic Johnson had Larry Bird. Oscar Pistorius has Jerome Singleton," he says, before reconsidering. "Maybe it's like Jerome Singleton has Oscar Pistorius because I'm the world champion."

Even if Singleton doesn't beat the man he calls his "twin brother," he's already accomplished as much as any athlete at the Games. At 25, he holds bachelor's degrees in mathematics, applied physics and industrial engineering and has interned at NASA and CERN. He intends to start a biomechanics Ph.D program when he's done competing in 2013 or 2014.

"I really want to focus on running and walking limbs," says Singleton, who hopes to create a standardized method for aligning artificial limbs that will reduce wear and tear on people's joints, especially those of athletes. "I didn't really become entirely comfortable and accept myself totally until I became part of the Paralympic movement," he says. "That's why it means so much to me."

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