Oscar Pistorius Set To Compete At Paralympic Games

Oscar Pistorius, Paralympic Games

Oscar Pistorius

As the Paralympic Games got underway in London Wednesday night, the 4,200 athletes competing took center stage. Perhaps most famous among them is South African Oscar Pistorius, 25, known as the “Blade Runner.”

A double amputee who runs on two carbon fiber prosthetics, Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics earlier this month. He made the semifinals at the London Games in the 400 meters and placed eighth with his teammates in the 4 x 400 meter relay. Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee at just 11-months old, also owns a silver medal in the 4 x 400 meter relay from the 2011 World Championships. He’ll defend his Paralympic gold medals in the men’s 100m, 200m and 400m, and also run the 4 x 100m relay on the track in the coming weeks.

As much as Pistorius has been lauded for his achievements as an amputee athlete, he’s also been the subject of speculation as the world debated whether or not his prosthetic legs put him at an advantage. In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body for the sport, claimed his prosthetics game him an unfair advantage and banned him from competition. Later that year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ruling and opened the door for Pistorius and athletes like him to compete in open competition. Detractors say that Pistorius’s artificial legs allow him to use less energy than other runners. Advocates say that the way an amputee’s prosthetics shoot them off the starting block puts them at a distinct disadvantage, among other factors.

One such advocate is American amputee triathlete Sarah Reinertsen, who published an op-ed on TakePart.com about Pistorius and amputee athletes. Reinertsen was the first female leg amputee to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Reinertsen writes:

“For amputee runners, it takes more than just carbon fiber blades to be fast. If that’s an advantage, I don’t see it. How is it an advantage to not have two legs? The carbon fiber gives an energy return of 90 percent, but you have to be the engine to inject that energy into the legs. The human foot has an energy return of about 200 percent. Do we tell someone, you can’t wear those glasses because it makes you see better?

… We are athletes just like anyone else, but we have to do sports differently, with extra equipment. Yet we have the same passions, dreams, hopes and talents as able-bodied athletes.

I love competing and my prostheses allow me to compete. I say, isn’t that great?”

I think it is. I agree wholeheartedly with Reinertsen, who speaks from experience. The idea that amputees with cutting-edge prosthetics are somehow at an advantage over runners using their own legs is ludicrous. If it were true, amputees would regularly be besting non-amputees. This is simply not the case. And as Reinersten points out, amputees can’t compete without prosthetics. So they shouldn’t be punished for using them.

Read Reinertsen’s entire piece here. She makes a compelling argument for amputee athletes in any form of competition.

Live coverage of the Paralympic Games is available online at ParalympicSportTV on YouTube. Sadly, no television coverage is available in the U.S., despite the fact that Team USA sent a delegation of 227 athletes. It’s a missed opportunity by NBC if you ask me.

A complete schedule of events at the Paralympic Games is available at London2012.com.

Photo: Seahawk214/Wikimedia Commons via a Creative Commons license
Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


08 2012

3 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. Arun #

    I think Pistorius is awesome and I have no problem with “blade runners” participating against able-bodied athletes.

    BUT I do think the question about those high-tech prosthetic limbs is a valid one. The logic that “If it were true, amputees would regularly be besting non-amputees” does not hold water because that doesn’t prove anything. All that proves is Pistorius wasn’t good enough to medal — yest he was still faster than scores of other runners.

    That’s like saying that ANY athlete who dopes would automatically come in 1st. I bet there have been scores of steroid-enhanced athletes who have NEVER won a race or even medaled. They still cheated and had an advantage over clean athletes of the same fitness/skill level.

    I REPEAT: I DO think Pistorius and other such athletes should be allowed to compete because the most recent scientific analysis seems to support that — but I still think it is a fair question to ask.

  2. Karla Bruning
    Karla #

    Arun, Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I’ll agree that it’s a point worth arguing. But I do think the logic holds water. I certainly wouldn’t say that any athlete who dopes would come in first, nor am I implying that if prosthetics did give an advantage, you’d have amputees winning all the golds. I’m simply arguing that if there was an advantage to be had, we’d see more best-in-class amputees competing at the level Pistorius is–there’d be a whole group of runners “bumped up” in a sense by the advantage the limbs supposedly gave them. Perhaps it’s a thing too hard to judge, or prove, for that matter.

    But I agree that there are scores of athletes who dope who never win–in fact, I KNOW there are. I get the IAAF’s monthly newsletter and every month about 10-20 athletes (in track & field alone) are sanctioned for doping, and most of them are people you’ve never heard of, aka they’re not winning gold medals. But the opposite is also true: athletes who dope are out there winning gold medals. The number of A-list athletes who’ve been caught is far too long: Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, Antonio Pettigrew, Crystal Cox, etc. Even Kenyan marathoners have quite recently been caught doping, and that’s not even getting into the world of cycling. Just thinking about it gives me a headache. Doping is illegal because we KNOW it gives athletes an advantage. If you took two athletes of identical fitness and skill level, the doper would likely beat the non-doper every time. But prosthetics? There isn’t evidence–scientific or anecdotal–to support that. And perhaps doping is a bad analogy because runners can (and should) run without banned substances. But amputees can’t run without prosthetics–and there’s nothing illicit about them–so any broad sweeping ban would have to be much more thought out and supported than the one the IAAF implemented (that was quickly, and rightfully, overturned), including weighing the disadvantages over any perceived advantages. But I’m glad we can agree that Pistorius is awesome and deserves the chance to run in open competition!

  3. 3

    This is a topic which is near to my heart� Take care! Exactly where are your contact details though?|

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