Oscar Pistorius this week made Olympic history by being the first amputee to qualify for the London 2012 games. The 400m runner managed a 45.07 seconds, well within the qualifying time of 45.25 to smash his personal best and storm into the history books.
Pistorius, who was born without both fibulas, uses ‘cheetah blades’ which are shaped like a hook to enable him to run as they act as artificial limbs. He is a dominant figure on the Paralympic circuit, having broken records in 100m, 200m and 400m categories and has won countless medals including a clean sweep of Gold medals in the respective events at the 2008 Summer Paralympics. It was in 2007 that Pistorius competed in his first international able-bodied event marking the start of a promising career in mainstream athletics.
However, the South African’s involvement in able-bodied athletics was surrounded by controversy. No sooner had Pistorius begun to compete, the International Association of Athletics Federation ruled that any devices thought to give an advantage over other athletes were not permitted and later declared him ineligible for able-bodied competitions in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Despite having the IAAF’s ruling overturned, Pistorius missed out on a place in South Africa’s 2008 Olympic team, falling short of the Olympic qualification time in the 400m. Having continued to make a name for himself as a ‘disabled’ athlete, Pistorius has earned his reward with a place at London 2012.
Pistorius’s participation is sure to divide opinion as to whether he is at any advantage over the other athletes with the use of his ‘cheetah’ blades. It has been argued that the blades, which act as the lower part of the leg, benefit the sprinter, as unlike an able-bodied athlete, the blades do not tire. Particularly in the short distance events, build up of lactic acid occurs which causes fatigue but this is something that Pistorius will not experience in the blades.
Pistorius is an individual case and also raises the question as to whether integration of able-bodied and disabled athletes is something the world of sport is to see more of in the future. Moreover, if this is the case, where is the line drawn to ensure that all the athletes have a fair chance against balanced competition?
Ultimately, Pistorius has achieved the qualifying time he needs to realise his dream of competing in the Olympics. He has not displayed signs that he will unfairly run away with victory or that he will be at a major disadvantage against able-bodied athletes.