Michael Johnson bucks courts findings, says 'friend' Pistorius shouldn't compete in London
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius has qualifed to run the individual 400 meter and the 4x400-meter relay in London.
July 18th, 2012
05:19 PM ET

Michael Johnson bucks courts findings, says 'friend' Pistorius shouldn't compete in London

With pals like Michael Johnson, does Oscar Pistorius need enemies?

Johnson, the former U.S. Olympic speed demon who now provides commentary for BBC, appears to be making a smooth transition from his days as Nike's "world's fastest man" to world's biggest mouth this summer.

Coming on the heels of curious statements about the descendants of slaves being athletically superior, Johnson is now saying it's "unfair" if Oscar Pistorius, aka Blade Runner, competes against able-bodied runners when it's not clear whether he has an advantage, according to the Telegraph in London.

The South African runner and his carbon fiber prosthetics are slated to compete in the individual 400 as well as the 4×400 relay in this summer's London Games.

"I consider Oscar a friend of mine, but he knows I am against him running because this is not about Oscar. It’s not about him as an individual; it is about the rules you will make and put in place for the sport which will apply to anyone, and not just Oscar," said Johnson, who holds the world record in the 400 and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the event.

The statement is in direct contention with scientists - and not just any scientists, but ones who actually monitored Pistorius as he ran the 400.

Pistorius was born without fibula bones and had his legs amputated below his knees before he turned 1. He still played several sports, including water polo, tennis and wrestling. After injuring his knee in a rugby match, Pistorius began running competitively in 2004 with the aid of the Flex-Foot Cheetah made by the Icelandic company, Össur.

The 25-year-old runner made headlines ahead of the 2008 Games in Beijing when the International Association of Athletics Federations handed down a January 2008 ruling saying Pistorius' prosthetics gave him an advantage over able-bodied runners.

The IAAF cited a rule it had established the previous year banning the "use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device." Supporters of the Paralympics champ claimed the rule targeted Pistorius, which the IAAF denied.

Pistorius denounced the decision, flew to the U.S. for more testing and appealed to Switzerland's Court of Arbitration for Sport. The court called the 2007 IAAF rule "a masterpiece of ambiguity" and said that while the prosthetics gave Pistorius at least one advantage, the IAAF studies had failed to consider the difficulty Pistorius had coming out of the blocks and accelerating during the first part of the race. Thus, Pistorius was at a net disadvantage, according to the ruling.

Buttressing the court's conclusion was that in 10 years, no runner using the Flex-Foot Cheetah "has run times fast enough to compete effectively against able-bodied runners until Mr. Pistorius has done so," it said.

The court had other findings in Pistorius' favor, but we'll let you read about those here in the 14-page PDF of the decision. The court's conclusion was clear: Blade Runner should be allowed to run in the Olympics.

U.S. Olympian Michael Johnson says it's unclear if Oscar Pistorius has an advantage over other runners.

Not one to be deterred by all this scientific stuff, Johnson claimed it wasn't clear whether his buddy had an advantage and downplayed Pistorius' athletic accomplishments.

"Because his personal best is 45 seconds – and that is not enough to win medals – people generally will take the approach he should be allowed to run. 'Let him run. It’s great,' " said Johnson, whose world record time in the 400 is 43.18.

In what may have been Johnson's most condescending assertion, he paraphrased British runner Roger Black as saying, "What happens when we have a Michael Johnson, a 43-second 400-meter runner, who then has a horrific accident and then becomes a disabled athlete and then you put him on blades, these prosthetics, and he is now running 41 seconds?"

Never mind that Pistorius vowed to get better after failing to qualify for the Beijing Games and sliced 1.18 seconds off his personal best to earn a spot in the 2012 competition.

Some chum, that Johnson.

It's not the first time this summer that the Dallas-born sprinter kicked off his gilded track shoes and donned the white lab coat.

Demonstrating he may never have heard of Jimmy the Greek, Johnson told London's the Daily Mail newspaper in June that American and Caribbean sprinters would continue to dominate their sport because descendants of West African slaves had a "superior athletic gene."

Johnson's remark is reminiscent of this old canard from the 1930s: "People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive. ... Their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games."

Those words came from Adolf Hitler after American sprinter Jesse Owens shattered the führer's backward notion of Aryan superiority at the 1936 Berlin Games, according to Albert Speer's "Inside the Third Reich."

In all seriousness, though, this theory of genetic athletic superiority among slaves has been debunked for decades.

Wrote sociologist Harry Edwards in 1971, "These arguments imply that the accomplishments of the black athlete in sports are as natural to him as flight is to an eagle, and thus the facts of a lifetime of dedication, efforts, sweat, blood and tears are ignored.

"Perhaps it is coincidental, but such a stance allowed racist whites in American society to affirm the undeniable superiority of the black athlete on the one hand and maintain their definition of black people as lazy, shiftless and irresponsible on the other."

In a book published last year, Northern Kentucky University sociology Professor Joan Ferrante noted that there were many sports at which black athletes had not historically excelled and pointed to factors that channel members of certain races to certain sports.

"Those factors include financial resources to pay for equipment, lessons and playing time; encouragement from parents and peers; perceptions that a sport 'belongs' to a particular race; and geographic location related to warm and cold weather sports."

We're not here to call one side right or wrong, but in matters such as these, we'll generally side with science over sprinters.

Post by:
Filed under: Olympics • Running • Sports • U.S. • United Kingdom
soundoff (949 Responses)
  1. Hope

    All men are created equal, but just to test the theory, let's place uranium legs on a broken down colt and see if his legs, joints and feet stand up to the stress of horse racing.

    July 18, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter L

      This decision is so Politically Correct and ridiculus. The man doesn't have full legs, thru no fault of his own. That doesn't mean we are comparing Apples to Apples. We are not. This is discrimination against able body runners. Maybe if he had wheels instead of blades they would say it wasn't fair.....

      July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pete Grundin

    Note to Johnson: The guy has no legs and he is still kicking your butt!

    July 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      How is he kicking his butt? He hasn't even come close to Johnson's best time.

      Oh and this article was really poorly written. It is possible to state the facts of the story without adding the authors opinion to it.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • ProAm

      Michael fears his 400 world record feat is about to be broken, plain and simple. And to top it off, by someone with broken legs...

      July 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Polkovnik

    Waaaaaaahhhhh. Toss the poor baby a crying towel.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MissouriBoy

    Great. Let Johnson complete the experiment. Cut off his legs and install the Cheetahs. See if he then does a 41 second 400. Athletes have ruined their bodies with steroids to win, why not full blown operations?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MIke

    Why put them on an old broken down colt? That doesn't make sense at all for Oscar Pistorius is not old or broken down. He is a top-notch world-class athlete. However, I feel the argument is a valid one. Ossur should create a Flex-Foot Cheetah make a pair that will fit a current top class runner who isn't an amputee and see if after learning to use them if it increases his/her times. If so, I think this should/would answer any concerns.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Oltan

    Johnson is right, and right to speak up. This is the proverbial camel's nose in the tent.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • ms

      They would have to also somehow lighten the test runner by about 20 or 25% of his normal body weight.
      Weight your legs, then put that amount of weight in a backpack and see if you run slower.
      The runner on cheetahs is carrying less and has a mechanical advantage. He is essentially running a different sport. No doubt he is a great athlete and working hard, but he's using a device in place of human legs.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Juan M

      Johnson is just getting in trouble for saying true, but not nice things. Remember nice goes first and truth doesn't belong on a news website.

      July 19, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Phil Jewett

    Let's put carbon fiber "blades" on Michael Johnson and let him race against Oscar Pistorius and see how disadvantaged he feels then.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ed

    Bionics don't belong in the Olympics.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SMJR

    also just announced......Stephen Hawking will be competing in the high jump....he will be aided by an ejection seat strapped to his wheel chair.....

    July 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin

    This argument is stupid because no one cares who the fastest person on the planet is. If I tossed you out of an airplane it would be a tie.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. UtahProf

    This argument was brought up almost 20 years ago when they first started designing "blades". Fact: the composite stores/releases more energy than the human equivalent tendon/ligaments/muscles. They were intentionally designed that way and are definitely more efficient than the human body. Let him compete if you must but anyone who can't acknowledge the science behind the advantage he absolutely has is simply in denial.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • ScienceSpeaks

      The fact is that we have no idea how individuals utilize the energy stored and returned from the Cheetahs. Simply storing and returning energy does not mean that it is being/can be used effectively. Further, elastic energy storage is useless in the acceleration phase of the race. We can all pass judgement based on our "feelings", but the science does not support an advantage.

      July 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ed

    Is this an article or a love letter?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • UtahProf

      Love letter. Objective Journalism is so passe ....

      July 18, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jay

    Interesting issue and I'm not sure which side I come down on (and don't claim to be knowledgeable enough to have an opinion worth sharing anyway) ... but concluding with the statement that you're not calling "one side right or wrong" is pretty ridiculous considering the tone of the rest of the article.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mindie in Indie

    What a whiner. Then the other guys should cut off their legs, get these prosthetics and see if things even out. Good Grief that Johnson (never heard of him before) is something else.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Trevor Aron

    He should be allowd to run. Go bokkie and win.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • georgeee

      I want to see how fast Usian Bolt can run with prosthetics...

      July 18, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43