Souhan: Pistorius' blades of contention

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 11:10 PM

There is no questioning Oscar Pistorius' courage, but it's valid to ask if his prosthetic limbs give him an unfair advantage over other Olympians.

view larger photos

  

LONDON - He bent at the starting line, and for a moment you could not say for sure where the blocks ended and the man began. Oscar Pistorius sprang forward on the carbon-fiber blades that have made his running career possible and provocative, and cheers from the Olympic Stadium crowd followed him like a slow-rolling wave.

Pistorius, the South American sprinter known as the Blade Runner, was warming up for the first heat of the 400 meters. He was about to become the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. The immense crowd rained down affection upon him, one fan even shouting, "You sexy beauty!''

In cruising to second place in the heat, qualifying for Sunday's semifinals, Pistorius became an inspiration and inspired debate over his right to race in the Games.

Never before has an Olympic official excused an athlete's tardiness after a race by saying, "He's changing his legs.''

"My mother always said a loser isn't the person who gets involved and comes in last,'' Pistorius said. "It's the person who doesn't get involved in the first place.''

Born without fibulae, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee before turning 1. After injuring his knee playing rugby, he turned to track. That a double amputee could qualify for the Olympics is heartwarming and admirable. It is also not as simple a story as so many would like to make it.

You can be a hero and a questionable precedent, all in one. Pistorius has the ability to make us surge to our feet, and scratch our heads.

You can celebrate the man's perseverance and bravery and still question his right to race. Michael Johnson, the world record holder in the 400 meters and a friend, says Pistorius possesses an unfair advantage. Some scientists and track experts agree.

There is nothing simple about this debate, once you move past simple admiration. Sports Illustrated consulted experts who found that Pistorius' prosthetics slow him down at the start, when the blades rob him of the ability to stay low, but give him an advantage over the last 200 meters, because the blades are lighter and allow him to swing his legs at a faster rate than able-bodied runners.

Even this portion of the debate is complicated. Of the eight scientists surveyed by Sports Illustrated, four determined that the blades give Pistorius an unfair advantage and four said they weren't yet sure how to balance his various advantages and disadvantages.

Few have debated one obvious advantage: Pistorius never has to deal with lower-leg cramps, sprains or strains, much less blisters or injured toes or torn Achilles. Offsetting that is the fact that he has been forced to train his body to function in a way alien to his competitors.

"That is hard for a lot of people to take and to understand when you are talking about an athlete and an individual who has a disability,'' Johnson said. "It is a great story, he is a great individual and he has been a great ambassador for athletes with a disability and for people, and how to overcome [that] and continue to strive.

"Oscar sees no limits; he has no fear when competing against able-bodied athletes. So it is hard for people to understand and to accept when you start to talk about whether or not he may have the advantage."

Saturday, at least, the debates didn't matter much, not while Pistorius was cruising around the sunlit track. His fellow competitors expressed admiration for him, and Pistorius, who thanked everyone from his coaches to his competitors to the media packed around him in the interview zone, said, "It's moments like this that make you step back and say, 'Wow!'"

For the moment, Pistorius fits perfectly into the Olympic dialogue. He is admirable but unthreatening. He will inspire, but he is unlikely to medal.

"He created history,'' said Grenada's Kirani James. "I have a lot of respect for him.''

But how would Pistorius be regarded if, instead of finishing second in a heat that would otherwise be ignored, he were threatening Johnson's records on feet of carbon?

"That,'' James said, "is another story."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • TRACK AND FIELD 4OO METERS QUALIFYING

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 23 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 98 FINAL
Cleveland 107
New Orleans 88 FINAL
Washington 84
Milwaukee 120 FINAL
New York 107
Philadelphia 88 FINAL
Brooklyn 99
Charlotte 114 FINAL
Atlanta 117
Sacramento 99 FINAL
San Antonio 106
Memphis 103 FINAL
Dallas 108
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Arkansas State 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Are you happy to see the Royals in the World Series?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close