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. ohsnap

    I wondered if his inclusion would be fair. If they can prove that his prosthetics give him no advantage, then fine. But I seriously wonder that. But this is the by-product of a generation that thinks everyone should get a ribbon for 'just competing'. That' everyone's a winner'.

    Like the late great Will Rogers said "We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by".

    July 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Disanitnodicos

    Does he have a prosthesis? Are other runners allowed to wear prostheses? If not, then he should not be able to. Whether it's an advantage is moot.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Darrell

    It is NOT FAIR to allow this man to compete against others unless the others have the same equipment. Since it is unlikely than anyone else has the same equipment it is functionally impossible to prove that this man does, or does not have an advantage. Undoubtedly this person is a good athlete but his equipment sets him completely apart from people who are using their feet rather than having something that looks like big springs. It is a tough call but allowing this man to compete as an equal does not seem realistic.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. No Smoke or Mirrors

    Blade runner should not be allowed to compete. It's not right. They clearly give him an advantage and I don't mean against other runners. I'm talking about him running without blades vs him running with blades. He belongs in the Paralympics.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jim

    Paralympics is what this guy needs to be in. The Special Olympics is reserved for people who write articles like this.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sadie Blake

      I totally disagree with this asinine comment. I support Special Olympics 110%; this fellow should be in the regular Olympics.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZT

      @Jim. Thanks for your two-sentence justification of why he should be in the special Olympics. It's clearly more reliable than that 14-page report done by actual scientists who are paid to do such things. Lol, scientists. Who needs them when we have random people on the internet?

      July 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jim

    any mechanical assistance should make one automatically disqualified – there is alot of energy he's not spending that others have to below the knees and that giant artificial bounce from the metal is a total unfair advantage. than other should be allowed to put polo stick springs in there shoes.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • alboze

      They are not metal; they are made from carbon fibre which is rigid and has no spring.

      July 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. toofarawayfromboston

    Michael, really? Someone needs to super glue your mouth shut so that you can't say anything else so stupid.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Disanitnodicos

    Maybe every runner should have his own special rules just for him.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jamdfh

    Yeah, but can he stand still at a stall in the men's room of the Olympic village? That's the real issue!!!

    July 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TR in ATL

    When he wins the 400 by 20 meters, what will they be saying then? "New world record by 5.6 seconds. An absolute breakthrough of athletic achievement!" I doubt it.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    I agree with Michael Johnson, that the man should not be allowed to run in the races. There are a huge number of rules when it comes to what is and is not allowed at the Olympics. Hell even when a swimmer can shave their legs or other body parts are very well regulated. Of course in the last few years there has been lots of talk about swim suits. In track there are all kinds of rules about shoes and spikes and other issues.

    It is amazing what he has been able to do but that really do not make it fair. Even if the equipment he is using now does not give him the advantage over people with legs. It is only a matter of time before some equipment will.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan in MPLS

      The Olympic Commitee caved to politcal correctness on this one. Their argument is that no one using blades has approached this kind of result. The sample size of blade runners vs. fully abled runners is too small to extrapolite this result into a conclusion. It is highly likely that someone who otherwise would have "great" but not "supreme" athetic skills could break the world record with this technolgy. Do we want that?

      July 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gedwards

    So why not permit wheelchair marathoners to compete as well?

    July 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. adrifter

    I admire Pistorius for his perseverance, but I have to agree with Johnson. This is not fair and sets a dangerous precedent for future Olympics.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Peace2All

    If it's truly 'not' absolutely clear yet whether he has an advantage or not, then IMHO, he should 'not' be allowed in the regular Olympics.


    July 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. exCONsrvt

    If one person can't wear carbonfibre and mechanics then why can another? Very unfair and it this guy wins, it win make it more clearly a bad decision

    July 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
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