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.

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Filed under: Olympics • Running • Sports • U.S. • United Kingdom
soundoff (949 Responses)
  1. Carbon9

    Carbon fiber is melanin darker color humans have eumelanin and white color humans has melanin with sulfur this is two different chemistry. carbon in its best form is jet black for example tires,dark tint,solar panels all parts of space shuttles are coated with a melanin coat or carbon look at the bottom of a space shuttle and Henrietta lacks

    July 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Travis

      This article was so dumb, but it was completely redeemed by this comment.

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

    why isn't anyone calling racism?

    oops, did I say that out loud?

    July 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Language

    The rule should be that anyone who uses any device to power their body to do any athletic feat would be disqualified from entering that event. Whether any device gives someone an advantage or disadvantage should be mute. Anything said other than that will just give some fool something to grab onto, some form of discrimination or such.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Exactly, no using muscles, legs, and other devices to run, are you kidding me what is this world coming to when they let a guy with half legs run.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    I ran for decades and I've known runners who've competed in the Olympics. Training is a balance between training too strenuously which leads to injuries and not training enough so that you're not in the best shape you can be in. Oscar Pistorius cannot injure himself below the shins. If he did, he'd just swap out the parts for spares. What's next? rocket-assisted wheel chairs at 100 meters?

    July 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brompton

      Idk, imagine a screw falling out or something snapping, sending you crashing into track at 25mph, as opposed to legs, which also may be injured, but don't fall off, and remain for balance and support, even if injured

      July 19, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Nissim

    I definitely agree with Mr. Johnson that black people are superior in certain sports. That is very obvious and to deny that is the height of misguided political correctness.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Language

      PC is correct. Look at all of the athletes in each sport, then determine what is the reason one group out numbers the others. When you see blacks have a greater percentage of players compared to their actual numbers overall what other conclusion can you come up with? Sure, there are sports they do not dominate, because certain groups just do not participate in some sports no matter what.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Piers Morgan, Supervillain

      You think that skin color makes someone more athletic? I'd say go back to school but all the education in the world can't fix that kind of stupid.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NoWayJose

    Jesse Owens DID NOT shatter any beliefs about Aryan superiority in the 1936 Olympics. If anything, the results of those Olympic games only could've further fueled Hitler's belief in Aryan superiority. Look at the medal counts: Germany had more gold, silver, and bronze medals than any other country, and won the overall medal count by 33.

    You just have to love revisionist history written by people that conveniently forget (and that's being kind...more like didn't even bother to look up) the actual results of the games.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rob

    So they admit he's slower out of the blocks... doesn't that mean he's even faster once going? Does he have an advantage over some 17th century pirate running with oaken prosthetics? If so it means he very much has a mechanical advantage that could be tweaked (different blades) for [say] different length races, or a steeplechase...

    July 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JustSaying

    He's a talented man who deserves praise for overcoming adversity, but Johnson is right. Allowing this guy to run alongside normal athletes would destroy the legitimacy of the records.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • el texan

      oh, bull ... comon ...please!

      July 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kay Kay

    It does seem a bit unfair. He will never suffer an ankle injury, or even ankle fatigue. I don't know if that puts him at an advantage or a disadvantage, but I don't think the scientists know either.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tom

    Well, they also have a man competing in the women's category, so I guess they can be ok with bionoc legs.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tom

    He doesn't suffer from foot pain, blisters, twisted ankles and injuries like normal athletes. I admire his athleticism, but I do not think its fair.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Old555

    Most of you sound like you are from Frog Hollow. How many people are starving in this world, how many children everyday die form disease, how many countries are in strife. Cut the Crap, get rid of the games and put that money towards helping these people.

    Its nothing but a bunch of over doped steroid grunts doing absolutey nothing for humanity

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

      As opposed to you? What have you ever done to help humanity? Trolling CNN boards doesnt count, kid.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay G

      Oh good lord. If people are starving, then they should grow food or move somewhere they can get food. It's not our responsibility to make sure every person in this world is enjoying their life. It's called responsibility for one's self. I know that accountability has long since been lost for most of the folks left on this planet.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      In response to Jay G, the world is a community and religion teaches us we are responsible for our fellow man

      July 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. RegReader

    I disagree with you but that's the funniest response I've ever read.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. g2-554d155ee0aaa518e03a7e70d9cd6b0b

    Another ignorant person who doesn't understand disability or accommodation. This is bigotry, not news. Next.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • PDF

      He should not be allowed to run any more than a weight lifter with hydraulic shoulders should be allowed to compete. Give it a few more years and you will see it happen. Better to address it now. It is a great feel good story, but he should be out.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • PFF

      Sounds like anything you disagree with is bigotry. There has to be a line and the blade guy is on the wrong side of it. If you were ever an athlete you would understand.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. kat

    The author clearly had an agenda in slamming Johnson. Did he work in the Bush administration – attack anyone with a different opinion. And, if you attack hard enough, you can shut down all further discussion. Galileo argued the world was round against all of the "scientific evidence." If Galileo was prevented from having a divergent opinion then the earth would still be flat. Whatever happened to journalistic integrity?

    July 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • justagame

      Are you still blaming Bush. Get over it.

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

      I think he is an Obama supporter with the fast and furious.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • GnatB

      Actually, everbody knew the world was round since at least the greeks. Galileo was saying the earth orbited around the sun, instead of everything rotating around the earth.

      (Oh, and P.S. Christopher Columbus was a bad mathemetician that got lucky. Like I said, everybody knew the earth was round. Everybody elses (fairly correct) calculations on the size of the earth indicated that the distance to India was too far for any ship to make it. Chris's (wrong) calculations indicated India wasn't too far. But, Chris got lucky and found a stopover point. (which, due to his bad math, he actually thought was India).

      July 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
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