It may have been the morning after for most of the Olympians travelling home yesterday but for South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, yesterday marked the start of two weeks recovery before he has to do the whole thing all over again.
Pistorius competed individually in the men’s 400m sprint and in the final of the 4 x 400m relay (their team being reinstated after not finishing their heat due to obstruction by another team). But what makes Pistorius different from the rest of athletes, as many readers will know, is that Pistorius does not have any lower legs.
In fact it’s pretty hard to go anywhere without hearing about ‘The Blade runner’. He has graced the cover of GQ, Men’s Health and the New York Times Magazine to name but a few. But is Pistorius’s very success now becoming his own worst enemy?
“Should the ‘fastest man on no legs’ be able to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics?”
Problems arose when Pistorius entered the 2008 Beijing games. Questions were raised as to whether his specially crafted carbon fibre sprinting legs actually gave him an advantage over the other competitors with their heavy, un-aerodynamic muscle and bone. If his advantage over non-disabled athletes is brought into question, then what of his position among fellow paralympians?
In short, should ‘the fastest man on no legs’ be able to compete in both?
In 2008 Pistorius appealed after his first refusal to The Court of Arbitration in Sport as to whether his legs posed an advantage. His lightweight spring-like legs do require a lesser force to power ratio but this is balanced against the fact that Pistorius has reduced force from his lack of lower leg muscle and the benefits of the biomechanics of an ankle. Any advantage left is minimal and the Court decided to let him compete. See The Huffington Post or The Atlantic for more information.
The second question concerns the purpose of the Paralympic games. If the Paralympics aim was only and exclusively to provide a platform which is a fair environment to play sport with a disability, an environment in which you would not otherwise be able to compete, then it would be true that Pistorius, who can hold his own against Olympians, should not compete.
However it is not true that the Paralympics is people doing sport at a disadvantaged level rather, as seen in events such as the wheelchair marathon or goalball, different sports entirely in which to excel. In the IPA’s own words: “The word ‘Paralympic’ derives from the Greek preposition ‘para’ (beside or alongside) and the word ‘Olympic’.” Thus, the Paralympics illustrate how the two events can exist together side-by-side. By competing in both, Pistorius embodies this spirit, demonstrating that a disability is not a disadvantage.
His actions reflect BBC presenter and Olympic Champion Michael Johnson’s cautions that we shouldn’t prescribe certain builds to particular sports; the popular notion that you have to be of west African descent, a certain height and build for sprinting for example was crushed in these games by the French sprinter Le Maitre (Caucasian), Allyson Felix (traditionally too slight) and even the legendary Usian Bolt who is conventionally far too tall to be a successful sprinter.
By competing in both games Pistorius shows that body shape comes second to sporting spirit. It is not that he is too good for either the Olympics or Paralympics, rather he is showing that the two games are much closer that their fortnight break implies.