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Pistorius won his appeal … but still faces an uphill climb

This column also appeared in the May 22nd edition of The Daily Dispatch.

In January, I wrote about South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius (Strange ruling denies an Olympic dream, Jan. 24) who competes in track and field using prosthetics called Cheetah limbs racing blades. The IAAF ruled that the racing blades gives Pistorius, a Paralympic record holder, an advantage over abled-bodied athletes thus disallowing him to compete in the summer Olympics.

On Friday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in Pistorius’ favor, overturning the IAAF’s decision and allowing Pistorius to chase his Olympic dream.

“I am ecstatic. When I found out, I cried,” the Associated Press reported that Pistorius said. “It is a battle that has been going on for far too long.
“It’s a great day for sport. I think this day is going to go down in history for the equality of disabled people.”

But is equality right? 

Oscar Pistorius is seen here competing on the track.

Oscar Pistorius is seen here competing on the track.

There have been a lot of debate among sports journalists about CAS’ verdict. Former Olympic high jumper and current ESPN track and field commentator Dwight Stones said during the telecast of the Adidas Track Classic on Sunday that he was surprised about the ruling and ESPN.com Page 2 columnist Tim Keown wrote:

“Should he be allowed to compete? Of course not. This really isn’t that difficult. Pistorius is running on artificial legs, wonders of technology instead of flesh and bone. It’s simply not the same.”

Keown continued, “If a legless swimmer showed up at a meet with carbon-fiber flippers, would that be all right? If a legless high jumper used spring-loaded Cheetahs, would that be allowed?”

To answer Keown’s question, no and no but those are two different entities. Flippers aren’t used in swim meets because they would give even abled-bodied swimmers an advantage and springs are designed for one purpose — higher propulsion.

I ran track for eight years and I know the training it takes to become elite — to become an Olympian. To my recollection, never had I once thought that if I was running on springs it would make me run a faster 100 or 200-meters. I’ve competed at meets where other amputees competed alongside us abled-bodied people and never did I think that they had an advantage. If anything, I didn’t want to be embarrassed and lose to them.

And maybe that’s it? Maybe we’ll feel embarrassed to lose to a handicap. Society has an image to maintain and being defeated by someone less than you goes against it no matter how uplifting it may be.

The only way to truly see if Pistorius has an advantage is to allow him to run against the best, see where he stand and adjust accordingly. CAS believes that too which is why it gave Pistorius the thumbs up — and his dream back.

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