0.70 Seconds Short of Glory

Known as the “Blade Runner” and the “Fastest Man on no legs” and guided by the motto of “not being disabled by your disabilities but being able by your abilities”, Oscar Pistorius has never looked back. Born in South Africa with congenital absence of the fibula in both his legs, he had his legs amputated when he was 11 months old. In the major part of 2008, Oscar has been in the limelight for his dispute with the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) over his prosthetic limbs giving him an unfair advantage over other able-bodied athletes.

Pistorius runs with J-shaped carbon-fibre prosthetics called the “Cheetah Flex-Foot”. It has been alleged that the “blades” he uses are longer than is necessary, allowing him to cover more ground in each stride. Furthermore, it is said that the his prosthetics return more energy per stride without ever becoming fatigued or requiring the same “investment of energy” and that they are not subject to metabolite that slows down able-bodied athletes. However, it is also true that these limbs have a number of disadvantages as well. Gripping the track in the rain is tough, the wind blows the device sideways and more energy is needed by him to start as compared to other able-bodied athletes.

In March last year, soon after his first able-bodied competition, the IAAF amended its rules to include a ban on the use of “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device thus barring Oscar. He was put on a number of tests to back up the amendment. But his dream of competing never died. He sebsequently appealed to the CAS (Court for Arbitration of Sport) to look in to the matter. In May this year, the CAS reversed the IAAF’s ban on the grounds that there was insufficeint evidence about the advantages he enjoyed and that the IAAF did not consider his disadvantges such as slow starts on the same footing. Given a clean chit, he started training for qualifying into the South African National Olympic Team. But a year of legal battes and controversies had been a heavy price paid. Needing a qualifying time of 45.55 seconds, he finished with a personal best of 46.25 last week which ruled him out of the 400 metre a few days back. He has also not been picked for the 4 x 400 metre relay because four other runners had better times than him.

It seems like last year, with him flying to Europe for tests, fighting it out in court and facing continous recommendations by the IAAF to disallow him from competing, citing his safety concerns and risk of further injury took its toll on him, leaving him with minimal time to train and improve. With the reported 9-10 weeks of training time and almost coming at par with the able-bodied athletes is an achievement in itself. Sticking up the the discouragements of the IAAF is another, who on one hand fights against racism but diallows disabled athletes from competing on petty grounds of safety. Had he qualified, it would have paved the way for a number of amendments in sporting rules in times to come. He shall now be competing in the Beijing Paralympic Games, 2010 and side-by-side training for qualification for the London Olympics, 2012.

From being operated at the tender age of 11 months to missing out anticipatory Olympic presence by a little less than a second, Oscar Pistorius has come a long way. He holds the world record for disability athletics in the 100, 200 and 400 metre division. An icon for many, he has won many accolades for contributions to the sport. He has been named third in Time Magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people. A man of heart who learned to make disability his ability and disadvantage his advantage, sticking to his motto till the very end.

Deshan Tucker

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