06 August 2008

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius, a South African Paralympic runner missing both legs from the knee down, is known as “Blade Runner” due to the shape of his prosthetic legs that he wears during competition. Pistorius’ reputation has also earned him the moniker “fastest man on no legs.” Modern technology has allowed Pistorius to bypass manual wheelchair racing events and still compete on two feet. He currently owns the double amputee world records in the 100, 200, and 400-meter sprints, which he has achieved while donning the Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs manufactured by Ossur.

In 2007, Pistorius participated in his first international race—one for able-bodied runners. Of course, controversy followed him throughout the days approaching, during, and after the event because people questioned whether his bionic legs gave him an unfair edge over the fully-functional competitors. Also that year, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) modified its rulebook to prohibit 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 organization maintained that the alteration was not targeting Pistorius in particular.

Scientists who monitored some of Pistorius’ efforts at the track administered tests to determine whether he had a distinct advantage over runners without disabilities; they agreed that he did indeed. Based on these findings, IAAF declared him ineligible to take part in any event under its jurisdiction, meaning he was banned from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as well. This decision was later overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on May 16, 2008 on the grounds that the IAAF did not have enough evidence to substantiate its claim that the prostheses granted Pistorius superhuman ability.

After this ruling was reversed, Pistorius still had time to qualify for the Summer Olympics, but he failed to perform well enough to make the South African team. Even though he finished third in the 400-meter race in Lucerne, Switzerland on July 16, 2008 with a personal best time of 46.25 seconds, Pistorius fell just short of the Olympic qualifying minimum of 45.55 seconds. The South African Olympic Committee also overlooked him for the 4x400 meter relay squad because four other runners had attained better personal times. If he had been selected, Pistorius would have broken down a barrier by becoming the first leg amputee runner to ever compete in the history of the Olympics.

Now, Pistorius is setting his sights on the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He believes this is an achievable goal because sprinters typically reach the pinnacles of their careers between the ages of 26 and 29. Pistorius will be 25 by the games in London with two or three years of Olympic preparation training under his belt.

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  1. Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius getting his mind back on track at the International German Championships 2008 in Berlin.

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