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. Hendronicus

    The writer here is very, very biased. They do not attempt to hide it, even. This is a shoddy article from a shoddy "journalist".

    July 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jimbo

    He should be allowed to compete in the bladerunner category.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Connie

    Well, it's obvious that it provides advantages and disadvantages as well. Since his times are in keeping with other athletes but not vastly superior it would seem that it is a wash. I know he doesn't want to compete in the paraOlympics but that is what they are for- people who have had injuries but still wish to compete.and there is no question of what's fair or unfair. Everyone in the Olympics has to use the same equipment, javelin, shot put etc. and I suppose to be fair everyone should come with the same physical equipment as well.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ryan

    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."

    The Nazi's were horrible. Aryan's are not the chosen race. But I think the common thinking that Jesse Owens ruined the Olympics for Germany is a bit of propaganda. Germany won the 1936 Olympics by a pretty sizable margin.

    Not trying to prop up the horrible Nazi. I just hate misnomers.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Pk slipper

    I think he may have an advantage. The average sprinter will have wear and tear on their calves and feet, but he can go in and get a new pair of prosthetics. Shin splints, twisted ankle, sore feet!!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Stevo

    M. Johnson is right on the money. It's readily apparent that thousands of budding sprinters will opt to have their legs amputated in order to artificially improve their times. This will soon be followed by shot putters who will submit to arm amputation (probably either just the left or right, unless they insist upon ambidextrous flinging) so that they can enjoy the benefit of super-bionic arm strength. Where will it all stop?

    July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Where will it stop? There are thousands of amputee around the world, some because of some unfortunate birth defect or accident and others as a result of casualties of war. Because of technology, these special people have been able to live their lives once more like normal human beings. I think that is a plus! Recently, many of our war veterans returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan and were able to throw a football and a baseball with their kids once again when they returned home. If prosthetics help to give these people a sense of security and normalcy, hey thank God for technology. I hope that prosthetics technology doesn't stop improving because it strenghten and restores the lives of the disabled and those less fortunate.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jean Sartre

      Yeah, I'm off to get both my legs cut off at the knee cap, just so I can go win a gold medal – about 6 Grams of gold in each – I've been waiting all my life to have my legs cut off...

      July 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    There's alot of things unfair in this world but this young man has defied the odds and confronted an unfair and unfortunate situation in his life to retool himself to be a great world class athlete, human being and inspiration to many! Do we have to try and redicule him after all he has been through? Michael Johnson on steroids is an inspiration to no one.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dastreagus

    ahh man I thought it was Jordan. Michael Johnson should know it's an unfair advantage. He is a runner. Let him compete!!!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brandon

    Of course those blades give him an advantage. Compare his time running the race with the blades, and his times running the race without the blades. I bet he runs way faster with the blades.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chan Gannaway

    People with IQ's over 100 unite ! For the love of all things Olympic.....PLEASE DO NOT ALLOW him to run. If a boxer has a carbon fiber arm, will we allow him to box ? If a swimmer has a 5" wide webbed paddle in place of a hand, can they swim ?
    This is so very disappointing and absolutely no way to measure accurately. I am shocked in the arrogance of the runner also. This is not a critique of his desire to run as it courageous and impressive what he does on the track.....but his lack of appreciation for the fairness and the Olympic spirit...but most of all his total absorbtion and selfishness in ignoring what chaos and legal battles this will bring to the games.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. porto

    It's certainly unfair, if not because of the springing mechanism of the artificial legs then it's because of the fact that those legs don't get tired and worn out like normal legs do. It's a politically correct stunt.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dakota2000

    If Pistorius can run, then able body people should be able to attache gizmos their legs to help them run faster.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Torgo

      Yes! That'd be awesome!

      July 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Like lower legs and feet? with actual muscles and multiple flexibility?

      July 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Clear Vision

    Well, what's the difference? Almost all the good runners use steroids and he uses fake legs. I think it evens everything out.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      But he gets to use both...

      July 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Language

      We're trying to get the runners to a natural state not start talking about making it an even field. Wat a stupid statement.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Torgo

    This brings us one step closer to the cyber-athlete I dreamed of as a kid. I'm all for it. Of course, I also support the use of steroids and other enhancements in all sports, so my opinion may be outside of the mainstream. Sport is for entertainment. If someone wants to wreck their body chemistry or cut off their legs in order to entertain me, then I'm all for it. And I'll pay them good money for it as well. Oh, and I don't particularly care if other athletes feel pressured to "keep up." They don't have to play if they don't want to. You like to run? Good for you. You want me to watch you run, then you've got to do something special.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      He has a clear disadvantage, he has no "feel" for the blocks, for his stride and cannot get stronger by working his blades out. Able body runners have the advantage of feel, muscle capacity, explosiveness. Otherwise blade wearers would have been breaking records for years. You ever try out jumping someone with a pogo stick? It just doesnt work the same as the human body connected through nerves and muscles.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Disanitnodicos

    It's unfair because he is using a mechanical aide, and none of the other runners are allowed to do that. The excuse that he doesn't have legs doesn't allow him to have different rules. Should slow people also have mechanical aides that reduce their slowness? Or should fat people be able to wear a device that reduces their weight? Etc. There is a flat rule: no mechanical devices, whatsoever, for anyone, period. That rule should apply to all runners. Asking for special treatment needs to become a reason to castigate people.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      They have mechanical and computer operated aids, what are you missing here? The other athletes have mechanical aids call legs!! Complete with muscles nerves and all attached to a super computer that responds instinctively, called a brain!

      July 18, 2012 at 8:30 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