Dallas — Of the 100-plus athletes here at the U.S. Olympic media summit, there might not be a more engaging or entertaining one than Jerome Singleton, who in December 2010 finished up a triple major that’ll make your head hurt — math, physics and industrial engineering — at the University of Michigan as part of a dual-degree program with Morehouse College.
The self-described “fastest amputee in the world” — wait, “T-H-E fastest” he reiterated with a laugh — was holding court this morning, along with a group of U.S. Paralympic hopefuls.
Singleton, born without a fibula in his right leg, has been a single-leg amputee since he was 18 months old. And growing up in South Carolina he played all kinds of sports — basketball, football, track — with the aid of a prosthetic leg. He even was listed as one of the state’s top 100 football prospects as senior free safety in high school.
But it was as a collegiate sprinter that he started to make headlines as an athlete, even as he made huge strides academically. And it was at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing — just prior to enrolling at Michigan as a transfer student — that he sparked a rivalry with South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, arguably the most famous Paralympic athlete in the world.
As Singleton put it, “Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, Magic Johnson had Larry Bird, and Oscar Pistorius has … you’re lookin’ at him.”
Competing in the “T44″ class for below-the-knee amputees, Singleton was beaten by Pistorius — the double-leg amputee dubbed the “Blade Runner” – at the finish by .03 seconds in the men’s 100-meter dash in Beijing. He later won gold anchoring the U.S. 400-meter relay team.
But last year, Singleton finally edged Pistorius, who’s making another bid to compete in the Olympics this summer, as he won gold in the 100 in a photo finish at the world championships in New Zealand. And for that, he gives much of the credit to Fred LaPlante, U-M’s men’s track coach, and Bo Sandoval, who’s now Michigan’s head strength and conditioning coach.
”Fred LaPlante introduced me to the (track) team as ‘This is your silver medalist,’” said Singleton, who trained with the men but couldn’t compete, having already used up his college eligibility at Morehouse. “It was a great experience. I was able to train with the team. But (LaPlante) also took time out of his schedule just to train with me by myself. And he took me to become a world champion. … He prepared me to beat an athlete who hadn’t lost in seven years. You can’t thank him enough for that.”
Singleton, 25, is back home in South Carolina training for this summer’s Paralympics, but he says he’s still working with Sandoval, who prepares his strength and conditioning workout plan every six weeks or so.