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.

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

    The problem is it opens another opportunity for cheating. Just out of uncertainty of any advantage, some able bodied runners may opt to use a prosthetic, and this ruling will indirectly let them do that. I am an engineer so I study the mechanics of motion and kinematics all day, and I don't see how this would not be an advantage in one way or another

    July 19, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Casey

      There are many biomechanical analyses of Oscar Pistorius in comparison to other elete sprinters with study results showing that while he does have altered kinematics, there is no mechanical advantage to his prostheses. Some people say that the "spring" of the legs is an advantage. Well, because of the design of these (which is around 50 years old), he is unable to produce the ground force reached by full bodied runners. The reduced weight makes not difference either. There are results from adding weights to his prostheses that show no reduction in top speed or endurance.

      People who are basing their judgement off the looks of these legs alone without any of the scientific results are going to come to the conclusion that these give an advantage. The science and mechanics proves otherwise.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Imjustsaying

      Totally agree. You might have whole teams of runners that just opt to put similar equipment on their feet for an advantage. By this ruling, those runners that may be able to cut off seconds from their time would be okay to compete.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • alex

      so as an engineer can you explain in what way a nonpowered device such as these blades can compensate for the power produced by the calf muscle. also consider that the same function these blade have in storing and releasing energy through their flex is accomplished in able bodies by the achilles.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. John Kaufman, Oceanside, CA

    These prothetic attachments to his legs are a definate advnatage to running. Why, just look at the way they are designed. It is a curved, very thin metal that will produce a spring like effect, thus increasing the stride and the speed to the gate. They have these same special attachments for those without amputated legs and they do make a difference in speed and length of stride in ones gate. To me it is not the same as what is considered normal, hense it should not be allowed in the regular Olympic games.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Disanitnodicos

    The argument that people should cut their legs off and use blades is specious. I think the people who are using that argument know that. They're just being dishonest to push their political agenda.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. BioHzrd

    There we go....the guy with no legs has an advantage. Give me a break.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • elperro

      No the guy with no legs, who uses synthetics to artificially enhance his natural ability is a cheat. If this is legal there is absolutely no reason why steroids should be outlawed.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Katt Williams

    poor little tink tink

    July 19, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  6. crew md

    I think we are all proud of the obstacles Pistorious has overcome to achieve true greatness. However, I couldn't agree more with Michael Johnson. I am a doctor, and feel myself to be scientifically inclined, and I don't know how they could determine the balance of influences and whether they provide an overall advantage. Apples should compete against apples, oranges against oranges, etc.. to legitimize the results.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. teedeezy

    Poor little tink, tink.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. dolfan650

    Why not return to the ancient Greek practice of competing completely naked? Problem solved.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. rkayp

    Of course Pistorius has an advantage with his prosthetics. Nonetheless, he has overcome enormous hardship and deserves accolades for his achievements.

    However, Johnson is being vilified for his courage for pointing out the obvious, when he should be lauded for his own dedication, training and superior performance, to say nothing of his willingness to appeal for fairness.

    An athletic organization that is so dedicated to fairness and excellence can surely come up with a solution to a dilemma that has countless implications for similar conflict in the future.

    Dual awards? Separate divisions? Surely smart and caring people can find an answer.

    A solution for a tough problem lies ahead within the planning/decision making process of the athletic organizations, not in a judge's chamber where any decision will be guided by forces other than the commitment to athletic greatness.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. elperro

    Yah, because friends can't disagree with each other from time to time. Who writes this garbage? More to the point, Johnson is absolutely correct. Don't know who the scientists were that concluded that Pistorius "doesn't gain an advantage" from the use of his prosthetics but that must be quacks. If he's not gaining an advantage than he could certainly run without them. In short, this is about the most blatant example of artificially enhancing one's body to complete in athletics that's ever been seen. Steroids are child's play compared to this.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  11. Prsbes

    Athletes have to deal with sore feet, blisters, etc. This gentlemen, though I applaud his will and determination, will have the advantage of artificial legs/feet – no problems with ankle pain, leg fatigue, etc. I understand that we all want him to compete because he is disabled. Still, his prostetic not only makes him able bodies, but propels him beyond that realm. I'm sorry but he should compete in the ParaOlympics. I wish him well.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • alex

      so your argument is he won't get sore or blisters? what about the movement between his blade and his thigh, that somehow doesn't happen? he has no calf muscle to fatigue, nor a calf muscle to produce power to increase his stride. the amount of weight saved by not having a lower leg does not compensate for the loss of power provided by that muscle. he also has to compensate for the lack of lower leg muscles with his upper muscles so if anything more prone to fatigue there as he doesn't distribute the load over as many sub systems.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. Disanitnodicos

    Most of the discussion is about whether Pastorius should run. But another question is, what if he is ultimately allowed to run? Will that change your mind about this race or about the Olympics more generally? I'm not a fan of the Olympics, but to me it seems this will take away from the reputation of the Olympics.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. blueyeddevil

    I wrestled a guy with one leg in high school. They do have an advantage in some respects. Everything you know is thrown out the window. Try to do a 2 legged take-down. It won't work.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  14. Raidel

    Just the fact that he doesnt have 2 natural legs is a disadvantage so he shouldn't be competing with the best athletes in the world on that event, let alone having prosthetics because is still not clear if he has an advantage.

    I do play a lot of sports like basketball, football, baseball, I ran track in high school and it is true that the black race in general are more gifted athletically than whites. Its like the NIKE commercial, "My better is better than your better"

    July 19, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. JACK

    I'm not a runner – nor an athlete. I'm a mechanical enginner. I haven't read the scientists' reasons for allowing Oscar to compete. I haven't seen Oscars "legs" for my self. But I'm pretty confident of this: Oscar's lower "legs" won't cramp. He won't twist his ankle. He can't even stub his toe. He has an advantage.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Scuromondo

      I agree. I would also think that his cardiovascular system would have a slight advantage since it does not need to supply oxygen rich blood to the lower part of his legs. I don't know if it is possible to quantify what percentage of the heart and lungs' capacity is required to nourish the lower legs of a runner while racing, but I stronly doubt that it is zero.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Agreed – and lets also face simple facts, his prosthetic legs are carbon fiber and weigh very little. Where as the weight of someone's legs from the knee down usually will weigh a few pounds, if not more – so in essence he's also running on less weight than runners that have no prosthetics and this also gives him an advantage, which may not seem like much to you or I, but when you are talking about fractions of a second it's huge.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Nomad

      That is exactly right. Well put.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Epacific

      I'm neither a runner nor an athlete and I haven't see these "legs" myself. But I am an aeronautical engineer and can tell you this: the man cannot effectively bend down and then straighten up when coming off the blocks. He does not have muscle control extending all the way down to the ground and is also greatly top heavy requiring an extreme amount of concentration on maintaining balance as opposed to just focusing on speed: he definitely does not have an advantage over those who have their natural legs and to say otherwise is silly.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      How many other runners have to worry about their lower leg falling off?

      Maybe he can't "twist" his ankle – but he can "twist" his "leg" to the point it becomes useless.

      He can stub his "stub" – making it painful to wear the prosthetic.

      I see quite a few DISadvantages.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • idiocracy

      I want to see him run and have to jump over hurdles lol

      July 19, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Reader

      Everyone keeps talking about not stubbing his toe, or twisting an ankle, metal this, physics that, blah blah blah. Did anyone read the article? Particularly the part about scientists determining he has a net disadvantage? Opinions aside, the man is already behind before he starts.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:52 am | 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