Double Amputee ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius Blazing A Trail For South Africa
The 2012 London Olympics will make history this summer thanks to South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, 25, a Paralympics veteran and double amputee medal-winner who will debut as the first ever athlete with artificial limbs to compete in the Olympics. With the support of the South African Olympic committee and the backing of the International Olympic Committee, Pistorius will represent South Africa in this year’s men’s 400 and 4x400 relay, despite criticism that his prosthetic devices give him an unfair advantage.
The controversy surrounding Pistorius' entry into the Olympic Games began in 2008 when the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) officially banned runners with specially designed prosthetics from competing against able-bodied athletes. The track and field governing body claimed Pistorius’ J-shaped carbon fiber blades, known as the Cheetah Flex-Foot, helped him push off the ground and gave him a head start.
But a series of studies by M.I.T. researchers in 2009 proved otherwise, and in fact revealed that the human leg is far more energy-efficient than any existing synthetic one. Although the debate rages among athletes and scientists, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ultimately overturned the IAAF's initial ruling, allowing Pistorius to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. “Today is truly one of the proudest days of my life,” Pistorius told Smart Planet. “I am so pleased that years of hard work, determination and sacrifice have all come together.”
Pistorius will join the South African squad, ranked No. 2 worldwide, as it competes against the top-ranked Kenyan, Jamaican and American teams this summer. Although his personal best time of 45.07 will probably not earn him first place, Pistorius will be blazing trails of a different kind.
Fellow double amputee Aimee Mullins, a former Division I Georgetown track athlete and current chef-de-mission for the 2012 U.S. Paralympic team, compares the Pistorius debacle to that of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games, when the African American athlete stumped racist critics and host Nazi Germany’s all-Aryan team by snatching four golds in track and field. “They are saying now this will ruin the sanctity of the sport, but we heard that in 1936, too,” Mullins told The New York Times. “Some people are just squeamish about it.”
Pistorius was born without fibulas and had to have both of his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months, but his inclusion in the South African Olympics team has been internationally hailed as a testament to his talent and perseverance, not his prostheses. "Sport is a birth right, and everyone should have access to sport," International Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz told USA Today.
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