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. Lee Majors

    This is why the high jump and the pole vault are separate sports. Javelin and archery. Handball and Jai Alai. Free diving and Scuba diving. Cross country skiing and snowmobiling. On and on...

    July 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brad

    If he has a problem with it. He can amputate his legs and even the score.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. AC

    Why all the opinion and Michael Johnson bashing in this article? There's nothing in this page to indicate this should be an editorial or anything but straight news, so why don't you just state the facts and let the readers decide?

    July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dino

    I think he's awesome in overcoming his disability. And I am sure he is better at sports than 99.9% of people who have ALL their limbs... STILL... from an engineering point of view, those springs are more efficient because they weigh less than bone and muscle tissue and he doesn't suffer from shin splints and muscle fatigue. Also, the muscles/tendons in his hips and upper leg/torso is at the same level of development of other Olympians and he has less weight in his lower body to pick up in his already powerful strides. Add the rest of the explosive power in his spine, back, shoulders and arms PLUS the energy added by the springs in his paddles and he is a human rocket.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Great points. And what happens when they make better / faster skids? Can he use them? Will it be like NASCAR where there will be a governor to control his speed? Again, I think he's amazing, but it's not the same race.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. steve851

    Well, if some scientists think so, it must be so 🙂

    July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jez

    Wow – I normally vote Democratic, but this reporter is really a screaming, overly PC Liberal. My guess is the author is a wannabe, couch athlete with no idea of what it is to train hard for a goal. Great – Oscar has made the best of his disability, but participating in the Olympics is over the top.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    I wasn't born with fast twitching muscles. I need a mechanical device like a motorcycle to make it fair. Oh wait. They have races for mechanical devices.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom54

      Maybe he could enter a Nascar race.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. hillla727

    Eliott, really? Should we let Steve Austin and Jamie Summers come out of retirement? Are you really this naive? Really? You think someone with spring legs should be able to compete – where does it stop after that? Dave with the spring-loaded arm throwing the javelin. Shelly with the electric Dolphin tale in the pool. You are a complete idiot.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Loogin

    ohnson, 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

    Wrong. He's always been one of the worlds biggest mouths.

    Remember the garbage he was talking before Donovan Bailey called him on his BS and challenged him to the 150m race?

    He's always been a portrait of an idiot in action.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jay G

    Michael Johnson > Elliott McLaughlin.

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

    They should just have an Olympic event for throwing a pity party, and Pastorius can compete in that.

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

    Seems like besides the spring action his blades provide, he has less weight to haul around the track and less wind resistance. I kinda agreed with Mike on this one.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ZHXF001

    Everyone who's against this, where do you draw the line? Hip or knee replacements? What about hearing aids and eyeglasses/contact lens?

    July 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      How about with items that DIRECTLY EFFECT your performance in the FUNCTION of the event... your comments were already addressed by many others and the fact that athletes with UNRELATED prosthetics have competed in events, but ONLY when those prosthetics had no function in the event.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Giorgi

      Anyone with knee replacement isn't going to run. And how does glasses or hearing aids have anything to do with running or other sports?

      July 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZHXF001

      There are other events in the Olympics other then running and some of them do require visual acuity.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Benjamin

    What a poorly conceived, and executed article. The authors opinions run rampant, and I honestly believe he's never taken English 101 where he should have learned at least a couple basic lessons on quoting,

    "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."

    LOL! If this CNN correspondent is working in Atlanta, I hope they throw him in with the whale sharks and let them "nibble" (harmlessly) on him. Just a little, and just so they can say they threw him in with the shark tank before he was fired and handed a towel.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Knownuthin

      So true Benjamin– this author makes some of the most egregious journalistic errors by misinterpreting "science," quoting only one side without presenting any of the many valid arguments of another side, and worst of all, Hitler comparisons. I can't believe CNN would publish garbage like this, but then again, CNN has been putting out more and more kitsch lately, presumably just to get reactions and website traffic.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mark

    I also agree that Johnson has a point and that this is a poorly written and very biased article. If we are incapable of considering and investigating our differences (whether or not slavery inadvertently resulted in a stronger gene pool or whether an installed prosthetic could result in an athletic advantage) then we are also incapable of appreciating and accepting those same differences. Given his reporting, this author is quite possibly as inflexible, ignorant and near-sighted as those he admonishes.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Knownuthin

      Well said– as I mention below, the decision of whether devices can impart an advantage depends on several factors and there are valid points on both sides. This author simply exposes his ignorance without adding anything to the discussion.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
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