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.

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

    The most unscientific criticism of another's lack of scientific prowess I believe that I have ever read. Total garbage. Perhaps there is a reason this particular prosthetic was chosen by Mr. Pistorius. You think? Oh, and yes blacks are better athletes in track and field. Is this not obvious? They compete and they win, mostly. What is wrong with that? Oh, I know. Because then we have to admit that in any arena (academics included) the same conclusion must hold and shhhh, no one wants to say that.

    July 20, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
    • brad

      I agree 100%.

      July 20, 2012 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
  2. Johnnie99

    It has to be said – just as drugs enhance a person's natural performance, so do prosthetic legs ... the correct place for a disabled person to compete is the Paralympics. Like it or not, that's the way things are.

    July 20, 2012 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
    • brad

      I dont understand your post: is he disabled or enabled?

      July 20, 2012 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. gianna

    who ever wrote this article is a jerk. of course it needs to be said, and is absolutely true. im sorry but you cant have guys with mechanical legs running in the olympics no matter how beautiful the story is.. you dont know if he has an advantage or not. and i tend to think he does. shame on this guy for trying to hold that against someone who has every knowledge of the sport and therefor has to have an opinion.

    July 20, 2012 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Jared Sanders

      *Raises Hand*.....I'm sorry, but are you saying that the guy without feet has an advantage?? Geez....

      July 20, 2012 at 5:25 am | Report abuse |
    • brad

      Yes, the guy without feet has an advantage, as does the pilot without wings on his back. It's called a plane. I've seen people without legs move at 100 miles an hour. Guess how?

      July 20, 2012 at 5:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Doc

      well said!

      July 20, 2012 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sun

    Why? Are you one of those people who claim Hitler was just "misunderstood"? Ignoring Hitler won't make him go away. He said it, he is a historical figure, even tho he was a bad man, so trying to pretend you have a clue is just not going to fly. Go back to video games, real life is too hard for you to understand.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
  5. van

    if he couldn't even qualify how can he have the advantage or the upper hand.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. van

    Michael Johnson you should be ashamed,if Osca couldn't even qualify how can he have the advantage.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. He can compete in the special olympics

    Sorry you may have an advantage and should not be allowed to run. Now if you want to use them arms to lift, throw, shoot then go for it. God bless but your not the same in this situation.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  8. DudeRick

    Requiring a runner to use his own human feet is not an unreasonable rule.
    But I say this rule only applies to events of "unaided human record" as in the oplympics.
    He can play pro football, basketball, tennis etc... but a contest to see how fast a human can run unaided is
    out because you can only use human limbs.

    July 20, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. confidential99

    Michael Johnson is right, Jimmy the Greek is right. Adolf Hitler is talking about something different (and that quote might be taken out of context).. Blade runner has an advantage, is it not obvious?

    July 20, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. ricardo1968

    I wonder how much of Pistorious performance is dictated by the exact properties of the springs. Can he shave, or lose, a second off his time by changing springs? What would be the optimal tension on those springs? If this is not known, I can see this being a problem. Why can't someone without any legs at all just sit on a motorcycle and hit the gas?

    July 20, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. AlexT

    Kat Williams put it best regarding a guy with no legs having an "unfair advantage." Poor little Tink Tink!

    July 20, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. @Dropsicuscaesar

    The Deed Is Done But The Debate Will Go On...
    Guess we'll see how much of an advantage Oscar has when he doesn't reach the Medal Heat.

    July 20, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. SPD

    The best illustration of his advantage would be as follows. If we dropped Mr. Pistorius and his legs onto the edge of a deck, so only his "toes" caught the edge, and he kept his body ridgid, neither adding nor suptracting energy from the event, he would bounce up a bit. He might even spring back off the surface and leave the ground again, the way a ball bounces before it finally comes to rest. If any of us did that with our normal flesh and bone feet, we would not bounce. We would have to exert new energy to get back off the ground. Pistorius' prosthetics return energy in a way no human body can. They can try and measure it and decide if it unfairly balances out his lack of lower bones and muscles, but no one really knows waht his lower legs would or would not have been able to do. What we do know is he wouldn't have bounced like that. He would be able to save and return all that energy with each step. No one can.

    That bounce is an enormous advantage and if you gave a world class runner runner shoes that reproduced the same bounce, they would take several seconds or more off the world record.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TG

    take away his robot feet and how fast is he really

    July 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tony

    Gimme a break, MJ "The Word's Fastest Man"?!? Didn't he pull a no-show at the race against Donovan Bailey, the real World's Fastest Man.

    July 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
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