The decision to ban 400m paralympian Oscar Pistorius – or “Blade Runner”, from running in the Beijing Olympics (were he to run the required qualifying time of 45.55sec – the ‘A’ standard that South Africa will probably abide by) is an indictment on the IAAF and world athletics.
In an age where drugs still damn the sport, particularly with the recent revelations of Marion Jones, the IAAF have missed an opportunity to not only close the gap further between able-bodied and disabled athletes, but to restore interest, pride and above all, the central element of what makes athletics so memorable: the breaking down of mental and physical barriers.
Of course, Professor Peter Bruggemann believes that Pistorius could attain an advantage over able-bodied athletes with his use of prosthetic limbs, meaning the breaking down of these so-called barriers could be easier. However, with a personal best of 46.34 – good enough to win gold at the 1932 Olympics, Pistorius isn’t going to do that just yet.
I’ll never understand how someone with no lower limbs could attain an advantage. I’ll also never understand how the IAAF are taking the findings of one group of scientists as fact, rather than seeking opinions from a variety of scientists.
Pistorius’ ‘legs’ are believed to take up to 30 meters to become effective, and as anyone who has ever watched a modicum of athletics before, it is the start that wins or loses races at smaller distances.
I cannot believe that Pistorius’ ‘cheetahs’, an ironic name in this instance, can match technique, hard-work and the capacity of the human body. I also cannot believe that the acceptance of Pistorius will lead to a sort of carte blanche, where much improved artificial limbs arrive and usurp able-bodied athletes; or worse (and this has been mooted), where athletes have amputations in favour of enhanced characteristics.
It seems deeply offensive to Pistorius to even raise those issues on the back of his emergence. This is not someone who had his limbs amputated out of choice; this is someone who wants to be recognised as an able-bodied athlete, and on the same playing field – or in this instance, on the same running track.
The thought of anyone committing ‘techno-doping’ is in the realm of Philip K. Dick, and would never be allowed, nor would it occur. Taking illegal substances is one thing, having an amputation and a subsequent fitting of a new, false limb is quite another.
There is also the argument that sentiment should not have a place within sport. But the Olympics is, and always has been, the most sentimental of sporting events, so why end here? Its very being is sentimental. And in an Olympics that could well be remembered more for pollution, postponed events and China’s human rights record, the story of one man could have helped light up an Olympics that could well be in danger of major embarrassment.
You also have to question whether the IOC would agree with having an athlete with false limbs competing with perceived specimens of athletic brilliance. It seems absurd when in past years you’ve had wild-card entrants, whilst adding to the Olympic spirit, have prevented more competent athletes from competing.
And yes, Pistorius’ participation in the Olympics could have an effect on the Paralympics which is getting successively bigger and more successful. But what more does he have to achieve at that level? Could there be a point where his dominance in the Paralympics could have a negative effect? Or will he become the Games’ primary selling point? Couldn’t that be just as negative? With someone like Pistorius, is Dame Tanni Gray Thompson’s view that the Paralympics is a “parallel games” relevant?
It is such a complete debate, and I could have gone on for thousands of words. But in 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile – that most recognisable of athletic barriers, which encompassed the mental frailties of breaking something thought impossible, and pushed the human body to its limit.
In 2008, we could have Oscar Pistorius breaking down an additional barrier. He has an appeal pending at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, and we could have had the purest achievement in athletics for many years – and I mean pure in the most literal of meanings.
What do you think? Feel free to comment – we’d love to hear from you.