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. poopfactory

    It's just games. Let him run.

    On a side note, I could run a 4.2 40 when I was 17,

    July 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Geroge Liquor

    This article is horribly written, which isn't surprising because there isn't even an author's name.

    I would really like to know who wrote this.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jorge Sedano

    So when the director of the med school told me he could not accept me because I was white and male. i was discriminated at...

    July 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bwannabob

    this is nuts. it wont be long before we provide amputees with bionic legs- these are not human legs they are machines- why should a machine compete against muscle????

    July 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Graham Ginsberg

    The Irish have the drinking gene, the Jews the intelligence gene, the blacks the athletic gene and so on. Just because Hitler was wrong doesn't make Johnsons statement wrong about artificial limbs or his ancestral abilities

    July 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • joma14

      The drinking & intelligence genes?! You're kidding, right? Did you just wake up after 200 years sleeping under a rock? Do you go to bed at night thinking you have it all figured out? My friend, whatever your background is, you definitely did not inherit the 'intelligence' gene!

      July 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. C

    This is one of the rare stories that I really can't comment on. Glad that I am not the decision maker on this one.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greenspam

    Blade Runner will win the gold medal, and Romney will be the next President of USA. These are indisputable facts, or falsehoods.

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

    If nothing else, he has fewer body parts (calves, ankles, etc.) that can be injured. I agree with Johnson and the writer's condescending tone toward anyone who would dare agree with him is laughable. Of course, the usual suspects will reduce their argument to calling those who disagree "haters" and other trite names to cover for their lack of an argument.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • rog

      At the same time there is no way he has the balance that the non-disabled athletes have and there's always a chance the prosthetic blades will malfunction. Point is, he worked for it and if his times are good enough for the team then let him compete.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lolita Hansen

    Go little tink tink!!!!!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MalcolmXcrement

    Sorry if this offends anyone. But the prosthetics most definitely give Pistorius an unfair advantage. With his entry in the same race as non handicapped runners, he is given an advantage due to the spring and recoil that his prosthetics provide. This is political correctness gone too far. I do not mean to diminish the courageous hurdles that the man has overcome, but the line needs to be drawn, sooner or later...

    July 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • TrueGrissel

      Don't apologize. It is what it is.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      I'd also think he'd be less tired than a man with calves and feet. His endurance probably lasts much longer than the average man because his 'feet' don't get tired, stressed. Of course if they do, they'd break...

      July 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Poppa

    As long as all the other atheletes can buy similar spring steel shoes/boots and compete...

    July 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JM*

    One fact that keeps getting glossed over in Johnson's comment is that there were "breeder slaves", ie, the strongest/largest male & female slaves were forced to breed. Is it any wonder that Blacks from the Americas are some of the physically strongest and largest today? There is an element of truth to Johnson's argument if you know anything about the African experience in the Americas

    July 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Of course there's an element of truth to what Johnson said, but the dripping condescension from the writer is typical of the everyone gets a ribbon crowd. They and they alone are qualified to dictate what's appropriate for one to say. Pathetic.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • DS

      There is actually little to no evidence to suggest breeding operations by plantation owners in the Americas. It is a myth that has long since been debunked by historians of slavery. If you knew anything about the experience of Africans in the Americas, you would know that.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. whutevr

    The term "unfair advantage" that everyone keeps insisting Oscar's blades don't provide isn't only about speed. Everyone keeps bringing up that the blades don't provide him with extra speed. They keep pointing out the scientists who claim the blades don't propel him further than human legs. BUT, what they keep ignoring is the FACT that he also doesn't have to worry about strengthening feet, ankles, calf muscles the way runners with two complete legs have to do. Sure, he must build and strengthen his thigh muscles. But, he doesn't need to do so any more than anyone else. His blades also help to even that out and provide the support that real feet, ankles and calves do without the threat of injury or the need for conditioning.
    It's time to stop playing the "no extra advantage" card in relationship to speed and start using a bit of education and admit that, while he isn't going to win any race at the Olympics, he still has a certain amount of advantage over the others.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steph

    Food Stamps, Welfare, Obamacare not enough for you thugs? ITS CALLED THE REST OF THE WORLD!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. t

    Running can have a very detrimental affect on your knees and ankles. Pistorius will not have this problem. How about the weight of the prosthetic legs themselves compared to the weight of the normal person's legs. The prosthetic legs can be improved depending on the material, a normal person's legs can only get worse over the years.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:51 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