The world is abuzz this week with news that Oscar Pistorius—the international track star who runs on two prosthetic blades that serve to replace the lower half of his legs—has officially qualified for the Olympic Games as a representative from South Africa.
It is a great decision by the International Olympic Committee to allow Pistorius to run. Now the IOC must wait for the story to unfold, hoping the "Blade Runner" doesn't actually win a medal.
The Olympic Games have long been as much about the human-interest stories as the actual athletic competitions. Pistorius will undoubtedly be the biggest story in London this summer, eclipsing the international coverage of champions like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. (If Pistorius is lucky, then he may even get as much coverage as Lolo Jones and her virginity. It will be close).
The road to London has been long for Pistorius. He was denied entry into the 2008 Olympic Games because research on his prosthetics could not determine if the devices gave him an unfair advantage over full-legged runners. While he has competed in Paralympic competitions, Pistorius has long had the dream of being considered one of the world's best runners, regardless of his disabilities.
Four years and countless hours of research later, Pistorius has not only qualified for the Olympic Games, but been approved to run by the IOC and International Association of Athletics Federations.
There has, however, been a bit of controversy as to whether Pistorius technically qualified for the 400 meters based on South Africa's national team rules, but since he had already qualified for the 4x400-meter relay, the South African committee's governing body decided that Pistorius's time from last year—a mark that surpassed their "A" standard—could be used to justify his inclusion in the individual race this summer.
Despite missing the “A” standard by less than a quarter of a second on June 30 in the African Championships Final, South Africa announced Wednesday that Pistorius will run in London. That has prompted some pundits to question whether South Africa bent its rules because Pistorius is such a compelling story.
But Tubby Reddy, head of the South African Sports Confederation, told The Associated Press that South Africa’s track body sought permission for Pistorius to run the 400. Reddy said the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee agreed to let Pistorius, who had qualified for the 400 relay, run the 400 meters too.
Without a doubt, Pistorius is the feel-good story of the summer. Again, that is unless he wins.
Pistorius is using technology to aid his ability to compete. Even if his prosthetics do not offer any extra spring to increase his stride more than a natural running stride would be for a man his size, the simple fact that he doesn't have those muscles eliminates the potential for injury or strain. Pistorius cannot get shin splints or a calf strain if he doesn't have shins or calves.
While that may sound callous, it is also something the IAFF and IOC had to weigh quite heavily in making this decision. One can imagine that life must be more difficult for a man who had both his legs amputated when he was a boy. His rise to prominence is nothing short of miraculous and his inclusion in the Olympics will do more to raise awareness and inspire other amputees than any other story in the world.
With that said, the IOC has to seriously hope he doesn't win, because the story will change from being a feel-good moment to one of fairness in competition. If a man with carbon-fiber legs can win an Olympic medal in a running race, why can't a man with roller skates instead of feet or a swimmer with a prosthetic flipper?
The truth is, none of this should be an issue as Pistorius will not medal at the Olympics. The IOC and IAFF should have very little concern about this story turning negative.
Let's not forget, most Olympians go to the Games with no intention of actually expecting to medal. There were 947 medals given out in Beijing in 2008 to more than 10,000 competitors. For most—including Pistorius—just getting to the Olympics is the real victory.
Pistorius's personal best time is 45.07 seconds, and the best he has run this year is 45.20. In 2008, LaShawn Merritt of the United States won the 400-meter race in 43.75, followed by fellow Americans Jeremy Wariner at 44.74 and David Neville at 44.80. Pistorius's personal best would have placed him fifth in the 2008 final in Beijing.
To put his time in further context, Pistorius ran a 45.52 at the African Championships in June, technically failing to qualify before being placed on the team by South African officials. Not only did his time not qualify per his country's standards, he wouldn’t have even qualified for the finals of the U.S. Olympic Trials. His personal best is nearly one full second behind what Merritt ran at the U.S. Trials in June.
It would take a miracle for Pistorius to medal in London. It may, however, be a miracle that he even made it there in the first place, so it would not be fair to rule out that possibility entirely.
Still, the real triumph for Pistorius is participating in the games. When he crouches into the blocks to start his race, he will have completed the hardest part of his journey. The race, by comparison, should feel like a jog around the track.