14 July 2012

Nigeria: Pistorius Bridges Gap Between Disabled and Able Athletes

Photo: BackpagePix
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius made history when he joined the men's 400m heats as the first amputee to take part in an Olympics track event.


South African double amputee sprint runner, Oscar Pistorius was included in South Africa's team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. His inclusion clears the way for him to become the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics.

Even as his inclusion in the South Africa 4x400 relay team may not have come as a surprise to many followers and fans of track and field owing to his track record in the event, it has taken the issue of disabled vs. able-bodied competition into another dimension.

Scientific prove have satisfied that his flexible, carbon-fiber blade gives him no aid, his participation in the sporting world's biggest stage like Olympics would likely fire up the long-running debate again.

Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby after he was born without the fibula bones in his shins, has a personal best in the 400 meters of 45.07 seconds - almost two seconds off Michael Johnson's world record - and ran a 45.20 this year, both inside the top Olympic qualifying time.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND SPORTS exclusively before his selection by Athletics South Africa (ASA) for the London Games during the just concluded 18th African Senior Athletics meet in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, where he finished second in the men's 400m event with the time record of 45:52 behind Botswana sensation Isaac Makwala who ran the time of 45:25, Pistorius described himself as a complete African, saying he is not feeling inferior to anyone. "I am African completely.

My mum is from Kenya and I have African blood running in me. Nothing is wrong with me and I am OK and can run with anybody.

If I am selected by South Africa to run at the Olympic Games in London, I will do my best and make Africa proud. Thank my fans and all those who have been supporting me to come this far," he said.

When asked why he wants to compete in the Olympics, he said; "it's a reflection of my world ranking, my times that made me eligible to be considered. There are tens of thousands of people with the same prosthetics I use, but there's no one running the same times.

You'll always get people who have their opinions on whether I should be competing in London but they can't explain my times. It will be an amazing feeling being in the Olympic Stadium because the atmosphere will be different from running at the Paralympics in Athens and Beijing. Also, the UK feels like a home away from home. It's so exciting running in front of the crowds."

The Carbon-fiber aided blade Runner doesn't just want to show up at the London Games as the first amputee that will take participation in the competition, instead he wants to be among those will that will make it to the podium for medals collection.

"My goals are just to be able to look back at my career and know that I didn't let my talent go to waste. I'm just trying to prove to myself that I can be the best that I want to be."

In 2007, Pistorius took part in his first international competitions for able-bodied athletes. However, his artificial lower legs, while enabling him to compete, have generated claims that he has an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners.

The same year, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition rules to ban the use of "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device". The federation claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius.

After monitoring his track performances and carrying out tests, scientists took the view that Pistorius enjoyed considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs.

On the strength of these findings, on 14 January 2008 the IAAF ruled him ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. This decision was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 16 May 2008, the Court ruling overall there was no evidence that Pistorius had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.

Although eligible to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Pistorius did not qualify for the South African team. Despite achieving third place and a personal best time of 46.25 seconds in the 400 metres in Lucerne, Switzerland, on 16 July 2008, this was short of the Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds.

He was also not selected by the South African Olympic Committee for the 4 Ã- 400 metres relay team as there were four other runners who had achieved better times. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, he took the gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (T44) sprints.

With his 400m time of 45.07 on 19 July 2011, he achieved the "A" qualifying standard for the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.

He participated in the 400m sprint and 4x400m relay, being eliminated in the semi-final of the 400m sprint (finishing last with a time of 46.19secs) and being part of South Africa's silver medal winning relay team, making him the first amputee to win an able-bodied world track medal, although he was not selected for the final.

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