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. VA

    He has a mechanical device therefore his feet, ankle, and calf muscles won't tire. There is spring involved in those blades which also weigh less than regular legs. His heart has to pump less blood to those extremities. Does using a mechanical device give him an advantage? It appears in so in certain areas of the body. Any thoughts?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yes yes

      Yes, the lack of scientific proof, that's sort of a big thing if you care about being correct. If not, I have found a loophole in the female mind that can get you laid in everytime, if you're interested.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark White

      You just covered every single thing I was thinking but was afraid to say.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Your points are directly on target. We may all feel sympathy for him losing his legs but when you step back and just look at the facts that steel is as fresh when he finishes a race as it was when he started. The metal spring in each step does not get tired because is is artificial. This is common sense that it ends up an advantage.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. nmmell08

    As a former track atthlete who understands how to run...I'd have to disagree with Johnson on some aspects. First off, Oscar has no toes. Being able to push off through your toes in a block start is so important and the flexibility of having that ball joint is crucial. Oscar does not have this, making it much harder for him to get out of the blocks. Also the springs/blades, as efficant as they are, are not as powerrful as a calf muscle. The calf muscle in sprints give you that spring that helps you pick up your knees. When i did workouts in spikes (track shoes) what hurt the day after was not the quads but my calves. He does have an advantage in other aspects as well. He is lighter, which helps a little with endurance of the quad muscle. And the "ankle" of the blades are 3% more efficant than human ones. Overall though...his starts suffer from the blades, which makes up for the slight peak of endurence, he should run in the olympics. He already has crushed every paraolympic record out there

    July 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnRJohnson

      These prosthetics and their spring action do NOT tax the heart and lungs the way that lower leg muscle tissue would, plus they are lighter than flesh and bone. This provides the disabled runner with an objective advantage, especially in longer distances. Johnson is right. The fact that Pistorius' times aren't that great is neither here nor there.

      July 18, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmLowLife

      You sound like you know what you are talking about but it seems there will come a time when technology will overcome the negatives. For instance, it would seem that some spikes could be fitted on the toe areas so that when in a starting position they dig in but when sprinting they would retract. Perhaps that would make up for the starting difference.

      At some point in the future, when some high-tech prosthetics firm builds a kick-ass piece of equipment, the Olympics will be forced to take a closer look at this like they did with the full-body swim suits. It’ll be like NASCAR looking for equipment cheats after a race, I would imagine...

      July 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Michael Johnson said recently that slavery contributed to Afro-Americans and Caribbean-Americans being world class track and field athletes because in his words, slavery gave us a superior gene. Then I sense a contradiction here. If slavery aided our success, then it gave us an unfair advantage too! Sometimes I wished Rosa Parks hadn't sit on that f-ing bus and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't put his life on the line for you worthles n/gros and the likes of all you stinking so-called black republicans giving our President a hard time. Worthless N/gros.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. D Rock

    Yes it's all so terribly unfair, isn't Michael Johnson? It's so unfair this person, who might I remind you was born without fibula bones, gets to compete. Not to say Blade Runner hasn't put in years in turmoil to get where he is today. I hope you're embarassed.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. WolfsComing

    He had no advantage.
    Any able bodied athlete is free to amputate their legs below the knee and get the same carbon fiber prosthetics.
    What's that?
    No takers?
    Then let him run.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dcajero

    Wonder what Jimmy the Greek thinks about all this?

    July 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. joe

    he shouldn't be allowed to compete. end of story. also, black people in the US (who are descendants of slaves) are athletically superior, generally speaking, than white people. again, end of story. michael johnson is correct on both accounts.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. thatguy

    I had always wondered about this as I am a diabetic would be athlete who might lose a leg one day. Good call for once cnn

    July 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Thom

    I dont think hes gonna set any records or win a gold. Just let him compete. Its very impressive

    July 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. genek

    If we see a sudden uptick in runners having their legs amputated below the knees so they can be fitted with blades we'll know they really are an advantage.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • nmmell08

      I have not heard of one yet, I'd never would, my block starts would go to hell

      July 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brad S

    Po little Tink Tink

    July 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. nc1965

    It's ashamed that the only way that a white guy can compete with black athletes is to use prosthetics.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. scott

    i think baron decubertan would be amazed and pleased to see this athlete

    July 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Knotty Boy

    I'd like to seem him compete in the long jump with those leaf springs.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dee

    it is ridiculous for the Olympics to try and be politically correct. Sometimes you are just not qualified to compete and it isn't anyones fault.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • mtrigg

      As a a former Qualifier for the Olympic trials (marathon), I believe my 2 cents is atleast as qualified as the authors. Johnson was correct in his statement. The O 400 is for the fastest 400 meter runners in the world. Sorry but Pistorius doesnt qualify. He is also correct about, west african sprinters, dna, genetics etc. and east african distance runners. Every elite runner knows this. Its genetics first and training second. MJ is also an expert not a racist or an idiot.

      July 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm | 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