South African native, Oscar Pistorius, 24, better known as the ‘Blade Runner’, continues to narrow in on the 400m Olympic ‘A’ qualifying standard of 45.25 seconds. At the Prefontaine Classic on June 4th, Pistorius clocked a 46.33, finishing just 1.17 seconds behind the victorious Angelo Taylor of the USA (45.16), and a mere 1.08 seconds off the standard. This past Saturday at the NYC based Adidas Grand Prix meet, Pistorius again looked to better his time and slip under the standard, but fell short running a 45.69 seconds. Pistorius’ early season performances indicate his ability to achieve the ‘A’ standard and potentially qualify to represent South Africa in London next summer.
Is Pistorius Unique?
Absolutely (!) and, absolutely not! Let me explain.
Accordingly to Oscar Pistorius’ official homepage, he was born with a congenital absence of the fibula bone in both of his legs, resulting in a double-amputation about halfway between his knees and ankles at 11 months of age.
Pistorius’ mother rejected the notion that her son’s disability put him at a disadvantage, and refused for her son to think so either. According to a pre-race clip featured on NBC during their coverage of the Prefontaine Classic, Pistorius’ mother was known for saying, “If your brother climbs a tree, I want you to climb the same tree”.
Oscar went on to attend Pretoria High School—known for graduating a series of successful young men including Dr. Max Theiler—Nobel Prize Winner for producing a vaccine against yellow fever. At Pretoria High, Oscar was competitive with other able-body athletes, competing in water polo, rugby and even wrestling. It wasn’t until 2004, while undergoing rehab for a knee-injury sustained while playing rugby, that he was introduced to sprinting. Long story short, by 2005 Pistorius held World Records in the 100m, 200m, and 400m events for disabled athletes. One year later he was invited by the IAAF to compete in a highly prestigious Grand Prix meet in Helsinki, Finland for able-bodied athletes. Pistorius declined the offer due to academic obligations. The rising star’s first IAAF able-bodied competition took place in 2007 at the Golden Gala held in Rome.
An Unfair Advantage?
With the international exposure came numerous claims that Oscar’s carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage over his able-bodied competition. The real blow came in 2007 when the IAAF amended its rules and banned athletes from using any technical device that provided a user with an unfair advantage. They claimed that this was not directed at Pistorius’ case; however, fans of the rising star disagreed. Pistorius’ artificial limbs were tested by scientists and proved to provide an unfair advantage, disallowing him to compete in the upcoming 2008 Olympic games, if he met the qualifying standard.
On May 16th, just months prior to the games, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the IAAF did not provide sufficient evidence in Pistorius’ case, allowing him to continue to compete in IAAF competitions against able-bodied athletes.
While Pistorios was not successful in his quest to represent South Africa in the 2008 games, 2012 is right around the corner and Pistorius and his fans can smell the aroma of London tea brewing every time he toes the line.
Knowing the dog-eat-dog world that we live in, it would be foolish to assume that this controversy is over for good; however, for now, may I suggest that we stand behind this young man as he continues to inspire our economically and socially burdened world.
Unique? Yes! He is accomplishing things that no disabled athlete ever has. Unique? No! He is just like you and me, wanting to be the absolute best at whatever career we pursue, instrument we play, or race that we run.
Next time life throws you a curve ball, think of Oscar, take a deep breath, and get your arse climbing up that tree, despite whatever “obstacle” may be standing in your way.
Chantelle Wilder is the Senior Editor and Co-Founder of Runners Feed and competes for the New Balance Silicon Valley club in the Bay Area of California. When she isn’t running, or editing she can be found enjoying the fruitful wines of nearby Napa Valley while challenging her husband to a game of Bananagrams®.