According to 400m world record holder Michael Johnson, who was also a winner of four Olympic gold medals, it is “unfair to the able-bodied competitors” that South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius is allowed to compete in the 400m at the London Games.
Speaking to The Times newspaper in England, Johnson claimed that Pistorius –known to many as the Blade Runner –should not be allowed to compete for the simple fact that no one knows whether or not he has an unfair advantage over athletes who did not posses painstakingly designed, scientifically tested limbs.
“I know Oscar well, and he knows my position; my position is that because we don’t know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics that he wears it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors,” the near-legendary Johnson stated.
“That is hard for a lot of people to take and to understand when you are talking about an athlete and an individual who has a disability.”
The 44 year-old agreed that his is an inspiring story of human endurance and will to succeed against impossible odds, but also warned against sacrificing the principles of the Games for the sake of sentiment.
“Because his personal best is 45 seconds – and that is not enough to win medals – people generally will take the approach he should be allowed to run, ‘let him run, it’s great.’
“…I consider Oscar a friend of mine, but he knows I am against him running, because this is not about Oscar; it’s not about him as an individual, it is about the rules you will make and put in place for the sport which will apply to anyone, and not just Oscar. If it was just about Oscar my position would be: ‘Absolutely, let him run.’”
Going further than this, Johnson talked of a hypothetical situation where someone like himself (Johnson ran a world record of 43.18seconds in Seville in 1999) could end up losing his legs and be fitted with state of the art ergonomically and aerodynamically designed limbs.
“Taking all that in to account,” Johnson continued, “let’s say that [Pistorius] does have an advantage, when he shows up here in London in all likelihood he would not medal; he probably would not make it to the final.
“But for some athletes that he is going to be competing against who are able-bodied athletes who don’t have the advantage of having their prosthetic [limbs] and [not] needing to worry at all about their lower limbs, maybe he beats one of those athletes and he gets in to the semi-final and they don’t. The semi-final is an accomplishment for some of the athletes who will be competing here.”
It is a debate that is likely to jar with some. All-encompassing study of such athletes would perhaps make some difference to the dispute, but the fact remains that Pistorius has been granted permission to compete, despite there being a lack of studies into the effects of no lactic build-up in the lower leg, no muscle strains, and no ill-effects of taking part in heats.
If technology improves and an athlete also happens to win a medal some years down the line, how would the audience feel? It is a tough one to consider, with or without morals or emotions. Is it possible to have a debate about the ‘right thing’ when such a story of adversity and triumph is considered?
One thing that can at least be agreed upon is that Oscar Pistorius is not only a great ambassador for the Paralympic games and a role model for those with disabilities, but he is also a great ambassador and model for all those that wish to achieve.