For the first time ever, a Paralympic amputee will compete in track and field races during the summer Olympics. In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled that Oscar Pistorius had an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners due to the carbon-fiber blades he ran on. This was overruled in 2011, when the Court of Arbitration of Sport ruled that these blades didn't give Pistorius an unfair advantage, and yesterday South Africa's Olympic Committee announced Pistorius would be on their track and field roster, running both the 4-by-400 meter relay and the individual 400 meter race.
Oscar Pistorius had both of his legs amputated when he was 11 months old, but he has never allowed his disability to limit his achievements. The South African took up track and field to rehabilitate a rugby injury, and has since won gold in several Paralympics events. After running the 400 meter race in 45.07 and 45.20 seconds in the past year, the South African Olympic Committee decided to relax the standard after he missed the final qualifying run by less than a quarter of a second.
Critics of the decision have pointed out that the prosthetic limbs will give Pistorius unfair advantages over the other athletes. Michael Johnson, American gold medalist and world record holder in the 400 meter, says that Pistorius does not need to worry about afflictions like shin splints or dorsiflexion, the relaxing of one's ankle that can occur during a race.
"When you go down to the crassness of it, if you think that he has an unfair advantage, then go cut your legs off, go strap on some blades, and go race him," John Register, an amputee and Paralympic silver medalist, says. "He doesn't have any power to push out of the blocks at all, and he has to use his knees and his hips to do so. He [also] has to fight centrifugal force around the curve, so that definitely takes away from any advantage he may or may not have on the straightaways."
Craig Spence, Director of Communications at the International Paralympic Committee, is excited about the inspirational power that a double amputee in the Olympics will generate. "If you look at the International Paralympic Committee's vision, it's all about exciting and inspiring people around the world. By Oscar competing on the world stage in London in both the Olympics and Paralympics, hopefully it'll inspire lots of people and change perception of what can be achieved by someone with a disability."
In the question of fairness, Spence believes that Pistorius has his own determination to thank for his fast times, and not his blades. "One thing to remember is that Oscar Pistorius has run on the same blades and the same technology for seven years, yet he's managed to take two and a half seconds off his personal best for 400 meters," Spence says.
The 2012 Olympic Games open in London on July 27.