Double-Amputee Oscar Pistorius to Race in World Championships

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius will realize his dream to compete against the fastest athletes in the world in next month's World Championsips. Recently, South Africa picked the 24-year-old sprinter for their team after he shaved a half second off his 400-meter time last month at a meet in Lignano, Italy. He will compete in both the 400m and 4 x 400m event.

“I have dreamt for such a long time of competing in a major championships and this is a very proud moment in my life,” Pistorius said in a statement. “It is an honour to be representing my country at such a prestigious event and I hope to do my best at the competition for South Africa.”

His winning time of 45.07 seconds was well below the “A” qualifying standard time of 45.25, making it possible for him to race at the World Championships in South Korea (Aug. 27 – Sep. 4). With the time of 45.07 seconds, an ESPN article pointed out he would have placed fourth at the 2009 World Championships and fifth at the Olympics in Beijing. To be considered for a spot on the country's 2012 Olympic team, Pistorius needs to either finish another race with a time faster than 45.25 or finish among the top three sprinters in South Africa.

For those that have followed Pistorius's story, this decision is the latest high in a roller coaster affair that has included legal battles, scientific arguments, and public debates. All have admittedly drained Pistorius. At the heart of the debate is this question: Do Pistorius's synthetic legs give him an unfair competitive advantage?

Even scientists can't agree on an answer. In January of 2008, the IAAF—the governing body of track and field—decided Pistorius had an unfair advantage. Pistorius appealed. A volunteer scientific team took up Pistorius's case and testified to the Committee for the Arbitration of Sport that the South African did not have an advantage. The IAAF decision was overturned.

Then in April of 2010, two of the seven scientists in that volunteer group said Pistorius actually did have an advantage. They published their opintion and entered into a scientific smackdown with the rest of the volunteer study group. The two dissenters said that Pistorius's advantage resulted from the fact that he could swing his light prosthetics faster than other sprinters could swing their real legs, and that his prosthetics could generate an unfair amount of power because they spent more time in contact with the ground than did real feet. As a result, Pistorius would need less force to run at a fast speed. The other five disagreed, primarily maintaining that the faster swing times (if they truly were faster, which they argued against) were the result of training meant to compensate for an inability to generate force. Since Pistorius weighed less and did not have as much mass in his legs, he was constantly compensating by swinging his legs faster. His faster stride was a reaction to the fact that he lacked the attributes of a full-bodied sprinter, not an advantage gleaned from having fancy prosthetics . They said more evidence would be needed to prove otherwise, and opened their argument with the following quote: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”—Carl Sagan

While the scientific and ethical debate about Pistorius's prosthetics will continue, the sprinter will still compete.  

What do you think, should Oscar Pistorius be allowed to race at the World Championships?

For more on Pistorius, check out the timeline and sources below.

1986, November 22 – Oscar Pistorius born in Johannesburg, South Africa without fibulas

1987 – Pistorius's legs are amputated and he eventually learns to walk on fiberglass pegs

1990 – Flexfoot debuts the Cheetah legs

2000 – Ossur acquires rights to Cheetah legs

2004, January – The 17-year-old Pistorius shatters his right knee playing rugby. Doctors tell him to try track and field.

2004 – Pistorius runs the 100m in 11.51 in an open meet in Pretoria (the paralympic world record was 12.20)

2004 – Pistorius wins silver in the 100m and gold in the 200m at the Paralympics in Athens

2005, March – Pistorius runs the “able-bodied” 400 meters at the South African Championships and takes sixth place

2005 – IAAF invites Pistorius to the Grand Prix in Helsinki and the World Championships in Manchester.

2006 – Pistorius wins gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and 400m (49.42s) at the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Championships

2007 – Pistorius wins silver in the 400m at the “able-bodied” South African National Championships (46.56s)

2007 – IAAF (world governing body of track and field) bans “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.”

2008, January – IAAF says Pistorius has an advantage over able-bodied athletes and is banned

2008, May – After hearing evidence from seven scientists independent study, the Court for the Arbitration of Sport overrules IAAF decision and makes Pistorius eligible

2008, July – Pistorius fails to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

2008, September – Pistorius wins the 100m, 200m, and 400m (47.49) in the Beijing Paralympic Games

June 2009 – Paper published online in Journal of Applied Physiology by seven scientists states that Pistorius did not have an advantage “The fastest runner on artificial legs: different limbs, similar function?

November 2009 – Two of the seven scientists publish a point in the same journal stating that artificial limbs allow Pistorius to run faster, “Point: Artificial limbs do make artificially fast running speeds possible

– The five remaining scientists publish a counterpoint stating that Pistorius does not have an unfair advantage, “Counterpoint: Artificial legs do not make artificially fast running speeds possible

2010 – Pistorius runs the 400m in the London Aviva Grand Prix and places 7th (46.93s)

2011 – Pistorius wins gold medals in the 200m, 400m (48.37s), and 4 x 100m in the IPC World Championships. He wins a silver in the 100m.

2011- Pistorius runs a 45.61s 400m in the Provincial World Championships

2011 – South Africa invites Pistorius to the World Championships after he runs a personal best in 400m in Lignano, Italy a month earlier (45.07s)

Via: Wired, Sports Illustrated, Journal of Applied Physiology, ESPN E:60, ESPN, Ossur

–Joe Spring