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. joes

    i think the author of this column must be the athlete in question. going as far as comparing johnson to hitler was quite the cherry on top of his absurd ramblings.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. whatever

    No way should this guy be allowed to compete. Where does it end? Will we let cyborgs compete eventually (when they exist)?
    Sorry for his condition, no one should have to live like that. And I commend him for his perseverance but it just doesn't make sense to let him compete against people with human lower legs.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. art Gabriel

    What idiots decided that this is fair to have an advantages device to compete with other athletes.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. kmoon

    When you watch the Olympic finals in the 100, 200, & 400 meter events for both men and women, how many Caucasians do you expect do see? Do you think they are absent from these events because they don't work as hard as athletes of African or Caribbean descent? Writers should be more careful before they start comparing a man's comments to Hitler's.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    I wonder what happens when he rolls an Ankle? Does he have bunions like me? Do his feet smell? All joking aside how can the Court be so obtuse? No feet in the sport of Running? yea thats a little different than no arms, or missing digits.

    Feet are the requirements of the sport! Running as defined in the Olympics is probably something like this... A Human Man (Male/Female sport), must advance 100m staying in between the white lines and only using his feet to get him there.

    Michael Johnson is taking un-necessary heat here...

    July 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Josh

    The notion Oscar has an advantage is ridiculous. I'm not sure what Michael is talking about. If Oscar wins, this means he is faster. There is no advantage; there is no asterisk.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • bilbo

      Then you don't understand the mechanics of running.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  7. Shane

    He's only saying what we were all thinking, he only has to use half of his legs, therefore it only takes half the strength...while science can't prove it yet, he's still at an advantage.

    They have this NEW thing called The Special Olympics, made JUST for people like him...

    July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Todd

    I'm not a scientist and neither is Michael Johnson, so I tend to think we should both defer to the actual, educated researchers who examined those prosthetics and declared them to be a net disadvantage rather then an advantage.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • T-Bone

      like the scientists that say man made global warming exists or the ones that say it doesnt?
      Scientists say a lot of things that dont make any sense.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sbesler

    what do you expect from a narcissistic, arrogant POS?

    July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • T-Bone

      would you feel the same way if your record was at stake?
      I know i would be mad if they let a cyborg try to outdo what i had to do with no advantage.
      and keep in mind, to this guy the carbon fiber springs are like normal legs to him, he has never had anything else.
      So i would say hes quite proficient with them.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. rob

    What if a jumper has the same kind of apparatus and jumps 12 feet high?

    July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AgonyF

    Like the swimsuits that made people float and gave them unfair advantage, the only way to make the playing field fair is to compete like they did in the ancient Greek Olympics.

    They should all be completely nudé.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. T-Bone

    Black people were in fact bred to ensure the stock was as strong and hardy as possible as slaves.
    If that comes back to haunt us white folk nowdays so be it.
    However, i feel this guy should be competing in the paralympics not the Olympics, the carbon fiber springs will give a push that legs normally dont.
    Why even chance the outburst that would come if he were to become a world record holder, it would never end.

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

      This is absolutely false. Any historian of slavery would tell you this. There is no evidence of widespread slave breeding in the Americas. Its a load of crap.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      Dude, take a history class. There's no evidence whatsoever of any planned slave-breeding program anywhere in the Americas.

      Now, whether people of African descent are genetically stronger in some areas then Caucasian or Asian individuals is another discussion, and probably one for physical anthropologists. But if they are, it's not because of some eugenic breeding program that never existed.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MattBMO

    I'm sure Michael Johnson is a Christian. You know that Christians don't believe in science. It doesn't match with their Bible, so it can't be accurate.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. wcbhwk

    Do you think for a second, this guy wouldn't trade any "advantage" his prosthetic legs give him, for a set of real legs? He is starting from the biggest disadvantage you could possibly have, and through blood sweat and tears has gotten to the point where he can compete. Let him run!

    And as far as Johnson's idiotic comments about black athletes having a genetic advantage in sports, that is complete nonsense. This has been scientifically debunked for many decades. The reason that there are so many black athletes at the pinnacle of so many sports is: that as a percentage of total athletes involved in the sport, they represent a large percentage. The distribution of athletic talent is random among all races of humans.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob

      That's not the point... we already have Olympics for people with disabilities.

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

    This guy is completely correct. Don't act like he's some joke just because he's telling the truth. I"m so sick of liberals preaching the same tired hatred of anyone who doesn't play their games. (and I can't stand conservatives either so don't all you narrown minded liberals start assuming I"m George W Bush now.

    Slaves are athletically superiour. THEY WERE BRED TO BE THAT WAY BY IGNORANT RICH WHITE GUYS!! IT's going to take a while for the gene pool to find an equilibrium but it certainly hasn't happened yet.
    Also he's entirely right baout this guys feet. I remember watching a news show a long long time ago about some guy who had this type of prosthetic when they first came out and the show mainly talked about how it not only helped someone to walk and run but it gave them superiour ability because of the shape of them. So WHAT CHANGED?? Politicaly correctness???? DIfferen't situation requires a differen't liberal slant?
    Who even cares. The bottom line is those aren't human feet. Sorry buddy but there are some disadvantages to losing your feet. You can't be in the regular olympics because the regular olympics are for people who take their HUMAN bodies to the edge and push the envelope.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • DS

      Read so history! There is no evidence of slave breeding in the Americas... Any historian would tell you that!

      July 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      Dude, take a history class. There's no evidence whatsoever of any planned slave-breeding program anywhere in the Americas.

      Now, whether people of African descent are genetically stronger in some areas then Caucasian or Asian individuals is another discussion, and probably one for physical anthropologists. But if they are, it's not because of some eugenic breeding program that never existed.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
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