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. deffflepppard

    This article has weaknesses and is unfair.

    1. It's unfair to blanket MJ as being condescending for stating that Pistorious is given a pass because his 400m times are not elite. This isn't a middle school popularity contest. World class sprinters live in a world where there the gulf between 0:43:18 and 0:45 is the difference between gold medals, winning and losing, leaving a legacy, millions of dollars, etc. It's a soul-consuming sport because it's so naked and truthful compared to other sports. You have a time, your name is on it, you can't hide from it. There's no blaming refs or teammates, no doubts that you can argue around in comparing atheletes (e.g., "Jordan was a better defender but Kobe could shoot the three better," etc.) The author here implies MJ is vain for referring to his own WR as superior, but that's the world of track and that time was the culmination of a lifetime of athletics. The author displays ignorance about track and field, which is a critical subject to this article.

    2. It's unfair to brand MJ stupid for refusing to blindly accept "court-ordered" or "scientific" opinions. To trust simply based on the application of the label "court approved" or "scientifc" is folly. There are all kinds of "scientific evidence" and court rulings that are later determined to be wrong. Different scientific studies routine prove opposite points, and there is a heavy bias toward the opinion of the money funding the study. (Remember here, Pistorious is marketable. He's in more comercial advertisements than any of the 400m gold medal contenders.)

    3. The author takes MJ's quotes about slavery out of context, and mysetriously says they are overruled by "science" when quoting a sociologist who said the eugenics theory is racist. Yes, MJ's statements may be controversial because we are so PC, but I don't think they are racist. Fact: of the 82 sprinters that have ever broken 10 seconds in the 100m, only 4 were not of West-African descent (two African sprinters not of West-African descent, one sprinter of indigenous Austrialian descent, and one white sprinter). West Africa supplied many of the world's slaves in the colonial era. By far the great majority of the other 78 sprinters of West-African descent are from the USA or Carribbean–i.e., descendants of slaves. When you consider that a foot race is probably the most common athletic endeavor known to man, it is impossible to ignore that the descendants of slaves have had hugely disproportionate statistical success at sprinting. Is MJ conclusion that artifical selection produced a sprinter gene correct? Who knows, but there are certainly more far-fetched theories. Slaves were humans treated as commodities for labor, often selected by traders for traits of strength and health. They were then subjected to voyages across sea in which as many as 96% perished in extremely difficult conditions. The survivors were segregated and left with no other breeding options. There progeny were similarly treated and valued as commodities of labor, possibly continuing a strength-trait breeding bias in the new world. What is so racist about that theory? Is it racist to say that Chihuahuas are small and Great Danes are big because of how their owners bred them? Yes, it's very uncomfortable to apply this concept to human beings. But the author should check his premises before labeling someone stupid or racist or illogical.

    4. Comparing MJ to Hitler and/or insinuating that he is racist is sensational yellow journalism. The author either got carried away or lacks journalistic integrity. Either way, he unfortunately fits the norm of many journalists.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      defffleppard I was thinking the same thing. The scientific study says he's more at a disadvantage and the author out of nowhere takes this as implying that scientists believe Pistorius should be allowed to run. And the author's tone is just oozing with condescension over Johnson's opinion. The guys lower legs are mechanical, all the other runners legs are pure flesh and blood. Advantage OR disadvantage, how is that FAIR?

      July 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Naive

      1) your description of track is junior high at best, where is the revelation that makes track so hard to understand that shows the author is completely ignorant? Track is naked and truthful? Now you're just being grandiose. There are numbers to every sport that can define a players supposed worth, track isn't special. Your point about basketball players of different eras is dull. In any sport, are they played exactly the same today as they were 10, 50, 100 years ago? No. Players change, rules change, even knowledge changes. What advantage did Michael have over runners even 15 years before him? Advances in sciences of athletics, human anatomy, even food, give him quite a leap forward, wouldn't you say? Those body of knowledges have made it easier and more efficient to become better and better, you didn't think we are just evolving into super humans did you? And btw, any professional athlete puts in 'soul' and 'culmination of a lifetime', tho nice job making your argument pretty.

      2) What money? Where is this money you speak of? Your whacko assertion would only make sense if the scientists who concluded he had a net disadvantage profited from this, or are funded by the runner himself, or a company that aims to gain from this, which none are listed. What's your conspiracy theory on that? Furthermore, you must have not even read the article. The author has no condescending tone whatsoever. He highlights the condescension of Michael himself. 'some chum' refers to Michael calling Pistorius his friend, and then reducing HIS culminating lifetime achievements to dirt. The author refers to Michael having no scientific or medical training, yet outspokenly criticizing qualified scientists. Put the tin foil hat back in you pocket crazypants, this isn't a shady organization bent on destroying michael's record.

      3)Christ, where do you start with such nonsensical cr@p? How could it be possible to take such comments out of context? How is scientific study pc? You're just throwing cr@p on the wall to see what sticks. "Who knows, but there are certainly more far-fetched theories" aka, the explanation about the magical invisible black fairies that sprinkles black runners with run fast fairy dust is certainly way more crazy than my ignorant proposition, so in perspective, I gain legitimacy. Sure. Hurricanes maim the south bc the televangelist says they are sinners. It rains only because I just washed my car. Asians and Indians are far smarter than everyone else, that's why they are doctors and lawyers. Wonderfully ignorant arguments. And explain to me how surviving a disease infested boat ride has to do with running fast. That should be a topic concerning immune systems, not athletic superiority. By that logic, Jews should some of the most athletic people in the world. Fool. Ever heard of culture? The athletic culture ofthe Caribbean is geared towards running, and black Americans are culturally geared towards basketball or football. So what? Who's not to say of the 7 billion people on this planet, there aren't 100 faster white sprinters? But due to culture and other desires, choose other paths? Are Latinos genetically superior at soccer? I've checked your premise, and you are stup!d, racist, and illogical.

      4)This was a way of thought long before hitler dummy, that's why he stated it first, then referred to hitler, to give the reader some perspective. He's a far better writer than you are reader. I quote you: "It’s unfair to blanket MJ as being condescending for stating..." and then later you say, "The author either got carried away or lacks journalistic integrity. Either way, he unfortunately fits the norm of many journalists." hypocrite much?

      5) one more thing, you're a fvcktard

      July 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Zach Dubois

    "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" dont try read between the lines its clear this is a ruse by US to implement body mods using SA and the so called blade runner as a puppet since drugs is out of the question might as well bring in the body mods then all our athletes will have "accident" to implement a body mod.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. aposter

    all we can say is poor little tank tank poor little tank tank ( katt Williams)

    July 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sodapop

    I hate when liberals try to make comparisions to Hitler or the KKK. It's a cheap, and stupid man's way, of trying to win an argument. The blades may, or may not, give an athlete an advantage. However, someday they sure will, as technological advancements increase exponentially. Remember the bionic man?

    July 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Frank

    Then let everyone use shoes with fiberglass springs on them to propel them just as fast! This guys prosthetic turn him into the bionic man!

    July 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Michael Doody

    Perhaps we should make them all run without sneakers. That would level the playing field. Let the man run. He is at a disadvantage. When he finishes the race he is still missing two legs!

    July 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Marvin

    Should Pistorius be allowed to compete using his "blade runners"? Yes, of course.
    I also have a disablilty that I use a device to overcome.
    The disablity is called obesity.
    The device is a honda 500cc motorbike.
    I demand that I be allowed to use my disability-overcoming device to compete in the olympics.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. SnakepitDave

    I think MJ has an unfair advantage because in the immortal words of Jimmy the Greek "they're bred for it".

    July 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    Screw it. Pistorus' prosthetics are just plain COOOOOL! Let him run. If he wins, a great tribute to human ingenuity. Let's get over ourselves and quit taking ourselves do GD seriously!!!!!

    July 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GatorALLin

    ...let him run....then change the rules after he shows the rest what overcoming challenges is!

    Turns out that our DNA code gives some of us advantages over others. Did you know that 99% or more of all gold/silver/bronze winners in the Olympics have proven they share a special gene that is linked to a better way they use oxygen and build muscles that most other humans? Is this fair or are they just mutants? On a basketball team it is easy to see the genetic mutants that are 7 feet tall....so is that fair... we let them play. What about kids without this Olympic gene that could NEVER compete with those that do.... is that fair? why because they were born that way? What if God gave us the tools to be more than we are born with? Are we then playing God? If God gave us the tools and wisdom to use those gifts...are we not making a mistake not to use them?? I watch the Olympics ONLY to watch the old records fall, and this would be cool to see technology winning and breaking records. LET HIM RUN!

    July 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jm8898

    The truth is often offensive, hurtful, and unpopular. Blade Runner has an unfair advantage, it is as simple as that. He should be disqualified. Let him rule in the Paralympics.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • SnakepitDave

      So you are saying people with disabilities should be banned from "normal people" activities. Heil Hitler

      July 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Derech

    This is the first time ever i see able bodied people being afraid of a person without legs! a person that had to suffer much more hardships on the way to get where he is than other athlete's usually we put people without body parts in other places like paralympics and now that he wants to get onto abled bodied people's turf they complain this is absurd...in my opinion his fighting spirit made him already a gold medal...be afraid very afraid (DISABLED yes this is the real term people use for Oscar) people will rule not because of their technical abilities but because of their strength to endure much hardships..

    July 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MarlboroMan

    imo anyone with 2 healthy legs and 2 healthy feet needs to stfu and let Pistorius succeed...the man did not choose his lot in life, and he has faced it and overcome it.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Remmett70

    According to MIT research, there is no advantage with the prosthesis. In fact they tend to be a 9% decrease in performance when looking at a running with one good leg and one prosthesis.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      There really is no evidence either way because we dont know how he would be if he had legs at one time. He could have been faster that the 45 seconds he runs or much slower. IMO they do give you an advantage and he should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics.

      July 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Russell

    What's the connection between this story and racism. Stick to one issue and leave that part for another story. The fact is that the technology that Pistorius is using will continue to develop and will most likely give someone like him an advantage, if not now, then eventually. Granted, it has to be a person who is athletic and has amputations at just the right point and no complications (other than the obvious ones!), but there are others using these "blades" and as the technology improves, what will we do? If they start blowing away the runners not using the technology, do we allow that to continue? If he wins a medal, do we know if he could have done it with his natural legs (assuming he had normally developed ones)? WIll we need to put an asterisk by his records? Ultimately, it's just probably not going to be a fair race.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
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