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. kato3000

    Poor Little Tink Tink

    July 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Scott

    I wanna see him do the 110 hurdles

    July 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • David Story

      If someone beat you with better equipment, better wind googles, better bike, better running shoes, better of something, it is time to step up or step out of the race.

      July 21, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Rock

      Exactly, LOL. He might be able to jump over 3 of them at a time.

      July 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Abbie

    Aren't there para-lympics for a reason? It's really not fair to those with human legs to compete against a 6-million dollar man type. OF COURSE he has an advantage! Look at those things! Do our legs spring like that??? Muscles/brain, whatever, we don't have carbon fiber and we're not engineered in a lab to run like a 'cheetah' ... or is it 'cheater?'

    July 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Please don't be so stupid. The reason there are Paralympics is so disabled athletes can compete with other athletes who have similiar handicaps. Are you suggesting that they are kept seperate because they are better? because that simply isn't true. Not only does Oscar Pistorius not have calf muscles, he takes far longer to accelerate than unimpaired runners. And by refering to him as a "six million dollar man" do you think he's has some robotic super legs? Their strips of fricking Carbon Fiber. Think once in a while.

      July 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • KDP

      The problem with your argument is that there are MANY individuals out there who have the same or similar equipment, who are also runners, that can't even come close to running fast enough to qualify for the games. If it's a matter of clear advantage, the games would be filled with amputees.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • KDP

      @Abbie The problem with your argument is that there are MANY individuals out there who have the same or similar equipment, who are also runners, that can't even come close to running fast enough to qualify for the games. If it's a matter of clear advantage, the games would be filled with amputees.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Letimrun

    "Poor little Tink Tink!" Katt Williams

    July 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gary

    So if i am missing my feet I can ride my bicycle in the 100 meter sprint. I'm bring home the gold for sure!

    July 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Marty

    Too bad we don't side with science more often… global warming, evolution, eduction, health care … We are an ignorant bunch driven by emotion, not facts.

    July 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Hemlock

      I believe greed is what drives our warped society. Greed for money, attention, and fame. When people get past their inferiority complex issues we will start moving forward as a society.

      July 23, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Marty – Agree, don't forget economically ignorant as well, especially about the well established effects of national debt on economic growth. Still backwards keynesians are able to win elections, run the govt, and the economy.
      I wish they could at least run it as fast as Oscar... even without his blades.
      Oscar for US pres! (at this point I'd take my chances on a South African running DC).

      July 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. D Johnaon

    The man has overcome his "disadvantage". He has prosthetics. Not an advantage; he has more than earned the right.

    July 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Watching You

      If you would do a little research, even the creators of the legs he is using says they give him an advantage over someone with normal legs.

      July 22, 2012 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |
    • justuandi

      I do not have a problem with him running. But he should not be receive any medal for any position. The point of the olympics is to go up against the best, mano vs mano, 1 on 1, under equal terms. He does not fit the bill and lets us not cloud the sob story of him with no natural legs. Without the blades he cannot run therefore he has an advantage if he uses them. He will not have to worry about a twisted angle or shock to his shins etc. If you all do not see that you are blind.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. craighaney

    There is a lot of science on both sides, but it seems to weigh more towards a weight and aerodynamic advantage, more so than a spring advantage. His carbon fibre blades are much lighter and faster, and even if his start is slower, it doesn't seem to have much to do with the blades. Please look at both sides of the science when writing these articles. It's important...M.J. doesn't count as science...other than a chemistry experiment.

    July 23, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  9. nottolate

    This guy has such an advantage that I'm considering getting discarding my legs and getting me a pair of those.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. Cranch

    I say that he has an unfair advantage in that he has fewer body parts that are susceptible to injury. He can train without the worry of pulling a calf muscle, twisting and ankle, etc. Ok, he is slower out of the box but what if he were running an endurance race where speed isn't as critical. Having fewer muscles to fatigue is unfair. Where will this stop? But kudos to his accomplishments.

    July 23, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |

    I have to agree with MJ, as Oscars gate appears to be longer therefore in the 400 meter race would be working less by taking considerablyfewer strides. I've only seen a couple clips of him racing and that's the way it appears.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  12. Elle

    Well, I don't know about this guy running, but I do know this. I was trying to run with that thing that you wrap around your gut so that it will increase your ability to sweat and get rid of your gut, and it was difficult; not impossible.

    So what does this have to do with anything? It's simple. If this man can run with his new found legs and is not challenged, I say let the record(s) stand. His real legs are gone. Why try to take his new found joy? Are people so prideful and jealous that they don't think that they can ever be out done?

    People get on my nerves. Michael Johnson, please have a seat! And yes, I'm a African American female, so it's not a racial comment.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff

    He should not be allowed. He has a mechanical advantage. Same as if you rode a bike in the race. It is not fair.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. Archived

    It's absurd that someone who probably has a parking tag that allows him the closest spot to the stadium could have an unfair advantage in a footrace. Think about it.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. justuandi

    He has an advantage. The fact that he cannot twist an ankle or suffer from shin shock. Please he should not be allowed to run period. He wil not be an equal to his peers. If he does run then there should be no medal contention for him. Do not hide beind the sympathy cloud that he works hard to get where he is... It is a question about fairness and using your natural body to beat the best of the best. He does not fit the bill - period.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
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