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. parkerq

    Seems like he has as much an advantage as anyone. Runners who think he has an unfair advantage can have their legs taken off and replaced by the same prosthetics and race.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary Berger

      Tthat's what it will come to if this is allowed. Yes, they want it that bad.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BOMBO ©

    Why all the hate for Johnson, Mr. McLaughlin? Maybe if you dig a little deeper in his past, you'll find out he eats babies, or keeps a dragon in his basement. Certainly those statements would be just as relevant to the Pistorius situation as the other mud you've thrown.

    On this issue, Johnson is right. This isn't about this one runner in one event. This is about the whole concept of allowing artificial devices as an aid to gain an unfair advantage in any sport. Allowing him to compete opens a whole can of worms.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ralph Henson

    He should NOT be allowed to run. He has an advantage, no leg muscles to get tired or cramped. He has two pieces of steel. More bounce and rebound than muscles.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. oldtimeadventures

    The Six Million Dollar Man has an unfair advantage.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Darth Cheney

    Michael Johnson was absolutely right in everything he said, and CNN went and tore him apart anyway.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. abqTim

    It's just not the same.
    Legs against legs...period.
    Keep it the same and no weird unforeseen stuff will happen. Mechanical advantage/disadvantage...doesn't matter because bottom line is it's not comparing apples to apples. This will never be equal, fair and uncontroversial.
    The guy only allowed to compete with like bodied athletes.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gary Berger

    Everyone else runs on vulnerable muscle, tendon and bone.
    Oscar Pistorius runs on carbon fiber.
    I don't understand how they conclude it's not advantage. This is not to take anything away from Pistorius, I'm sure he trains as hard as anyone else, maybe harder.
    McLaughlin is way out of line here, Johnson is just telling it like it is. Political correctness has gone too far in this case.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ELH

    The Olympics has become professionalized and the IOC is populated by morons–I simply do not care who wins what anymore. I'd rather watch my granddaughter play fast pitch softball. At least she and all her teammates are playing because it is fun.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    He should not be allowed to run! Great for him for overcoming such an obstacle, but that's why there is the special olympics! Great, he wants to run against able bodied men like he says, fine. But he is cheating by using those blades, as it DOES give him an advantage. He is taking the place of other able bodied athletes who deserved to be there in his place! Most the runners I know are against him as well, only because he has that advantage. What's next, a shot putter with a bionic arm?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LRRP

    Let Johnson cut off his legs and adopt Pistorius' "legs". A guy with missing lower limbs could compete at one or two weights lower in wrestling/boxing.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      Look, that is besides the point, the point is, would he have run this fast with his real legs? Perhaps not, why? Muscles tire, artificial limbs don't, steel feet give better bounce and stability. This doesn't mean that others should cut off their legs to use prosthetic ones, it means that he should be given credit for his preparation and allowed to compete against similar bodied athletes. It also means that credit should be given to the runners who have been training to compete using their legs but won't be able to because he is a millisecond faster.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Josh

    Well said.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dsmithwi

    Johnson is absolutely correct. I am 100% sure that Pistorius could never run a sub 45 with his real legs. That sounds awful, but it is true. Pistorius is NOT a world class 400 meter runner. Plain and simple. He is good and I find his dedication admirable but let it go my man.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sharkman

    My sympathy to the disabled, but let us take this to it's logical conclusion and send in robots to compete.Where do you draw the line between a prosthetic and an enhancement?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Andy

    Dude, he has no FEET. How is that an advantage?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharkman

      His feet cannot get tired, he is not hauling around a bunch of meat that he might not need to run fast. I think in this case that you are right and he is at a dis-advantage, but what about the future?

      July 18, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bernie

    And where do you draw the line between unaided athletes and "compensating" for a disability?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • rh

      Technically, anyone who has had surgery, and especially if staples or pins were used an left in, should not compete either.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericasMostBlunted

      You dont you send the ones that are disabled to the special olympics andcall an end to it.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
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