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, Ă–ssur.

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 fĂĽhrer'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. David

    Poor lil Tink Tink....

    July 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Matt

    I blame Palin.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Casey

    In the long run, athletes with mechanical enhancements will consistently out perform the un-enhanced. Ultimatly, there will have to be two (at least) categories of olympians: "Natural" and "Enhanced". Maybe one day there could also be a third category: "The All-Drug enhanced olympics." Where all drugs are legal, and in fact encouraged. Athletes could be enhanced both chemically and mechanically... "He did the 400 in 19.3 seconds with the Bender 8000 Super leg unit, Steriods, Cocain, and 2 shots of Nyquil!!"

    July 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Speaking of edge, advantage or disadvantage, then why was America's Dream Team (Majic, Bird, Jordan) allowed to compete against amature athletes at the Barcelona games in 1992 and pride themselves for beating up on a bunch of tired, hungry and inferior third world athletes? Hypocrisy!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      We were the LAST country to play pros, genius. Educate yourself.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. S Ward

    If they are to "ban" a type of swim suit they wear in the pool due to and unfair advantage then how can this fly.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    A White Boy Can Survive. New Hank Williams song.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kay

    This is totally unfair!!! The fact that everyone competing should be on "an even playing field" is what is needed. Does Oscar have to worry about his shoes fitting? Does he have to worry about his feet hurting? His knees hurting? Does he have to "push off" when the gun sounds the same way? These are all things that put all Humans with feet and legs on an even playing field. There is NO WAY this is fair or equal!!!! He has totally different needs and issues with his prosthetic...... He SHOULD NOT be competing with men that are different.... he should compete with men with the same type of prosthetic s. Keep him OUT of the Olympics.... totally different and unfair!! In fact, when he is racing I WON"T watch...... not curious about who will win, because it's "apples and oranges"!!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John

    I wonder if Nike made running shoes out of these `blades` would Johnston be able to use them in a race.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Elhuero

    he should go kick everyone's butt at the paralympics where he belongs.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Corey Trevor

    Quote from the site of 'Cheetah' "The design captures the running characteristics of the Cheetah It replicates the big cat’s hind leg, whose foot extends and reaches out to paw at the ground while the large thigh muscles pull the body forward. "

    With that being said the next guy I see running down the track at the Olympics better have some duck feeted spring pulling body action contraption going on because last time I checked having that type of advantage in any sporting event would be a quick and thoughtless disqualification.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    Run Forest. Run!

    July 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Frank

    I agree with Michael Johnson on this one. Because when a runner with real legs starts running a lot of things go into factor. For example: Their feet can hurt and get tired, Their legs can hurt and get tired. Also including the calf which hurts and can cause cramps. So a runner with real legs has to focus on all of those things AND to gain speed which requires training and keeping the legs healthy.

    Now someone like Oscar Pistorius does not have real legs and uses something else to replace where the legs should be. When he runs he has to focus on other muscles of the body, including most of his thigh and upper body. And not to mention that he has no feeling at all on the fake legs. He can't feel, and he can't hurt it. If the fake leg brakes in half, it will not hurt him, all he has to do is buy another fake leg and put it on and he is good to go. There is no foot to get tired or hurt, there is no calf to hurt or cramp up.

    Just because Oscar Pistorius can run and reach the speed of other professional runners, does not mean he should compete.
    To me this is very unfair.
    It is unfair for the runners with real legs, because they won't be running against someone with the same factors and shape of their body.
    This is also unfair to Oscar for the same reasons.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      I was not saying if he broke his leg while running. I was just saying that he can't feel and it won't cause problems if it broke period. While a runner with a broken leg would have to go through some serious rehab. If this is fair, that means that people without disabilities should be able to attend the paralympics right? Would you find that fair?

      July 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Inakman

    they should put magnets in the track to slow him down!! ha ha

    July 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • narutogrey

      It's a good thing his blades are non magnetic carbon fiber then.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JMissal

    If Pistorius is allowed to compete in the Olympics with his advantage, what is keeping able-bodied athletes from competing against handicapped athletes in THEIR Olympics? Of COURSE the handicapped community would be up in arms about it.

    I hope that all those racing against Pistorius refuse to leave the starting line....or better yet, walk the entire way through the course.

    July 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      If he wins a gold medal, there will be huge conterversy mark my words!
      Actually, if he wins ANY medal, It will cause chaos. Because the person just behind him in the race will feel that it was not fair, and that they deserved it, and they will talk. Oh they will talk alright!

      July 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • TrueGrissel

      I like that idea.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gedwards

    "Coming on the heels of curious statements about...."

    Wow. Is Eliott C. McLaughlin the former ESPN writer who wrote the headline about Jeremy Lin and some "chink" in his armor?!!??

    July 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
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