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.

Post by:
Filed under: Olympics • Running • Sports • U.S. • United Kingdom
soundoff (949 Responses)
  1. Adam Jensen

    "I don't do no tricks with no Augs yo"

    July 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. exCONsrvt

    Sorry he has a disability. Wearing mechanical anything is an unfair advantage. The olympics are supposed to be a pure sport

    July 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jake

    Nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution when it comes to physical enhancement in the Olympics.

    July 18, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. steve

    Here's the problem, from my perspective...

    First, I doubt that the panel reviewing this case could've conceivably considered every variable that might make the blades an advantage or disadvantage. It's just too complicated a problem without years of studying a larger sample size than 1 guy.

    Second, just based on the law of averages, it seems very unlikely that one of the guys using these blades JUST HAPPENS to be one of the top-20 runners worldwide.

    Assume that the blades provide no advantage whatsoever, and the chances of a person who uses them being olympic-class becomes infinitesimal.

    July 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      There are ~600 Olympic athletes in the US. Approx 1 in 200 US citizens have an amutation. I'd say according to statistics, there should be at least 3 athletes with prosthetics if they provide an advantage. I realize there are a lot of factors to consider that I didn't mention (such as healthy lower limb amputees vs healthy people, but my point is that the chances of this happening isn't "infinitesimal"

      July 19, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Matt

    Johnson: "....and when I ran *sniff* I had to run w my own legs *sniff*. I would walk up to the starting blocks w my real legs *sniff*....and then we'd run w our real legs *sniff*....then afterwards we'd go for long walks w our own 2 legs *sniff*....It's just not fair! *sobs* How come he gets to be an amputee and I DON'T!!!!!" *wails*

    July 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Randoms

    Good point. But where does technology draw the line. Blade runner then some sort of (hate to use the term) bionics. Assisted capability can be quickly exceeded and demean those who train with what they are born with. My thoughts, so don't lash out if you disagree.

    July 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jmho43

    What kind of "reporting" is this? "Some chum that Johnson"..

    Johnson has a point. Maybe this athlete cannot break a world record, but does that mean there's not an unfair advantage? How many sprinters try to make the olympics and fail? This is a very select group. It's obvious when you look at those appendages that there's more spring to them than a human foot.

    July 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AnyNameCanDo

    If this guy can compete in the (summer) Olympics then Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, and all the other non-handicapped athletes should be allowed to compete in the Special Olympics, This is a case where the application of science is wrong; it is not a question of scientifically determining whether he has an advantage or not, it is about competing without the aid of PEDs and mechanical devices.

    July 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • cocoloco

      The special olympics are for those who are not normal. To go from 'special' to 'normal' is the point this amputee makes. No one should be afraid to be challenged when obviously a normal runner has the upper hand, regardless of the 'technology' an amputee uses, unless he is riding a bike! Johnson should be ashamed to whine and others should give the man a chance. If the argument of allowing 'normal' people to participate in the special olympics is embraced, then, what's the point of calling it 'special' when its definition clearly shows it's an event for people with obvious physical or mental disadvantages. Perhaps Johnson should lose both legs as well as others to stop whining and try it themselves!

      July 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AnyNameCanDo

    If the blades give him no advantage then let him compete without them...

    July 18, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mbane

    Please...you talk and call people morons but you don't know what you are saying. You can't prove if it's an advantage or not so why are you talking?

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

    There are multiple heats to get to the finals. Everyone is at risk of twisting an ankle joint or just about anything in the process. Except him. That's not an advantage?

    July 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Diborunning

    Can we cut off Johnson's legs, give him the Cheetah prosthetics and see if he can beat his world record?

    July 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. That Guy

    This actually does bring up an interesting debate...

    July 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff Miller

    Next will see a person with no arms or legs fitted with a giant spring which shoots them all the way across the finish line in one big "Boooing"! ....... and a Federal Judge will hang a gold medal on 'em and proclaim them the Winner. Give me an even bigger break PPL.

    July 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Can't believe it

      Although your post is a bit of a hyperbole, your point is dead on. This athlete, plain and simple, should not be running in the Olympics, period..........end of discussion........ He has a venue..........it's called the paralympics. He's just trying to throw mud in the face of all the nay sayers.

      It amazes me that one can be declared a "doper" over taking the wrong decongestant because it has been deemed an "unfair" advantage yet this athlete is allowed to compete against able bodied athletes..............utterly ridiculous!!!!!!!!

      July 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norm

      It is unfair.
      Of course he has an advantage.
      Next we'll have a guy with pogo sticks for legs competing in the high jump.

      July 18, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pimpson

    You're an imbecile. He doesn't get lower leg injuries or muscle fatigue, dummy

    July 18, 2012 at 11:10 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