LONDON At first, it seemed like a sideshow, this idea of a guy with no legs running in the Olympics. The real Olympics, not the disabilities one.And then I saw Oscar Pistorius of South Africa take his place in the starting blocks of the mens 400 meters Sunday, and I watched him courageously run.He was just 11 months old when, because of a congenital disorder he was born without a fibula in both legs Pistorius limbs were amputated midway between his knees and ankles.He didnt let it quell his passion for sports. At age 17, Pistorius was introduced to running.In the Paralympics Games, he found a way to measure himself against the best disabled runners in the world. Pistorius won a gold medal in the 200 meters at the Athens Paralympics and three gold medals at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.His fight has always been twofold. One, to run the 400 meters fast enough to compete alongside so-called able-bodied runners. Two, to ensure that disabled athletes are given that chance.The objections, they say, have centered around his track shoes, the carbon-fiber prosthetics that serve as his running legs. The IAAF itself, the world governing body of track and field, fought him, claiming the artificial limbs gave him an advantage.Consider the bigotry in the IAAFs objections. They were arguing that a man with no legs has an advantage. In May 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled in Switzerland that Pistorius should be allowed to compete. His journey took him all the way here Sunday night, to the semifinals of the Olympics 400, with some of the best able-bodied 400-meter runners in the world lined up alongside him.Pistorius, whose personal best is 45.07 seconds, was not expected to medal here. But he advanced to the events semifinals where, struggling as he came out of the first curve, he went on to finish last in 46.54. In the area past the finish line Sunday, Pistorius struggled to catch his breath just like all the other 400-meter runners.Kirani James of Grenada, the winner of the heat, walked over to Pistorius, pointed to his chest, and the two exchanged their Olympic name tags. James gave him a tight, appreciative hug.Oscar is special, James would say later. Its a memorable moment to be out there competing against him.The crowd at the Olympic Stadium saw what happened, and the applause began for Pistorius and for Kirani James.I found myself clapping along with everyone else.Oscar Pistorius earned his place at the Olympics starting line Sunday night. He ran for every Paralympian who was unable to.And opened the eyes of all of us who never cared enough before to watch.Quarters come up pennilessIn the 16 times that the United States has gone to the starting line in the mens 4x400-meter relay, it has never failed to cross the finish line first.The track and field annals suggest that we grow quarter-milers by the bushel in this country. Were the nation that gave the world Michael Johnson, Butch Reynolds, Lee Evans and Jeremy Wariner.But when the worlds best 400-meter runners line up for the final Monday night, no Americans will be in the field. The last two were eliminated in Sundays semifinal heats.The third, 2008 Olympic champ LaShawn Merritt, winner of the U.S. Olympic Trials, pulled up in his qualifying heat and did not finish.Merritt claimed it was an injury that he suffered in a Diamond league meet three weeks ago.Its my left leg, he said. I injured it in Monaco. I felt the cramp there. It felt like a bad bruise and on the curve here.Its a question now of going back to being 100 percent.But it likely wont happen here in London, which begs the question: With healthy alternates available, some of whom may be named Wariner and have previous gold medals of their own, what was Merritt doing running last week in the first place?Bryshon Nellum finished third in his semifinal heat Sunday and failed to make the finals. Tony McQuay ran fourth in his semi and also didnt advance.It will be the first time ever that the United States has not had at least one entrant in the Olympics 400-meter final. How does that happen?The post-post-post game showThe routine that you see on TV, a breathless runner being shepherded over to the NBC cameras for an immediate reaction, is nothing like what takes place behind the Olympic curtain.Allow me to give you a peek.Once athletes complete their event, they must first negotiate a gauntlet of TV interviewers from around the world. They then pass through something called the Mixed Zone, where the so-called print media gets to shout a question or two that the athlete may or may not stop to answer.There are Olympic handlers and drug-testing chaperones shadowing the medal winners every step.And at some point at the end of the protocol, presumably after theyve talked to Bob Costas, Tweeted and updated their Facebook page, the athletes are herded into a big room and a group interview begins.Sometimes, as in the case of Usain Bolt and the 100-meter medalists on Sunday, this can all take as long as a couple of hours.The Olympic people need to take a lesson from Hollywood, where Oscar-winning actors are immediately whisked off-stage and placed in front of a room of inquisitive press.Instead, we wait. And we wait.And by the time we do get to talk to the medal-winning athletes, all spontaneity has been lost.There were hundreds of journalists at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, and nearly all of them, it seemed, were there to write about Usain Bolt.Which made it all the more painful for us to wait Sunday, while officials painstakingly paraded the hammer throwers, the woman triple jumpers and the steeplechase runners through the interview room.The steeplechasers were sent to the room right before Bolt, and a large and impatient media crowd had already formed and staked out a seat.This obviously confused the winner of the 3,000-meter steeplechase, because when Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya entered the room, his eyes widened he apparently thought the crowd was there to interview him.We werent. But as the interview session, fueled by the Kenyan media, lingered on and on, journalists with a deadline began to get restless.What on earth, some wondered, could Ezekiel Kemboi possibly say that would prompt the 500 journalists in the room to switch their stories to the mens 3,000-meter steeplechase?Perhaps he could lean into the microphone and say something like, Hand over all the gold medals, or I will instruct my defense minister to proceed with the launch codes.Or maybe, This has all been a thrill, but Id like to announce my impending marriage to Madonna.Instead, we just waited Sunday for Bolt to take his turn.NBC doesnt know how easy it has it.Headed to footballRoad trip coming up today.Finally, I must snip the surly bonds of the Docklands Light Railway and broaden my Olympic horizons.Im taking a train to Manchester, two hours away, to cover the U.S. womens semifinal soccer match against ... uhh ... somebody.The match will be played at historic Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.Considering the British fans reported apathy toward the Olympic football tournament, this should get interesting.