Saturday, December 29, 2007

Courage Under Fire

Sprinter Oscar Pistorius (far left) & Martyn Rooney in Sheffield, England

Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner”, is living his life without limitations. That is the motto of Ossur, the manufacturer of his prosthetic blades.

Rocking sleek, curved prosthetic legs that appear straight out of a sci-fi movie, sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been burning up tracks and leaving controversy in his wake. At issue is whether those carbon graphite appendages give the 20-year-old South African double amputee an advantage over able-bodied runners.

The questions persist: do the prosthetics simply level the field for Pistorius, compensating for his disability, or do they give him an inequitable edge via what some call techno-doping?

This is an issue that has yet to be determined as he makes a bid for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. No - say prosthetic manufacturers, other amputee athletes and researchers. Maybe - says the International Association of Athletic Federations, the governing body of world track and field, which continues to study the matter before making a ruling.

Test results are in and have been sent to Blade Runner’s representatives. IAAF is officially mum on the matter, choosing not to make any announcement over the matter until January 10.

Pistorius’ biggest obstacle may be qualifying standards. To reach the Olympics, he would have to run 45.95 seconds before the July 2008 qualifying deadline. His best time is 46.56. In comparison, world champion Jeremy Wariner posted a personal best of 43.45.

Earlier this year, Pistorius placed seventh at a race in England, running the 400 meters before being disqualified for going outside his lane. But he had already grabbed attention for holding world records in the Paralympics. Although he's not the first disabled athlete to compete against able-bodied athletes, he is the first double amputee who may make the crossover.

I hope the controversy doesn’t obscure the real story – Pistorius’ victory over his limitations. Pistorius was awarded the Helen Rolloson, which goes to an athlete showing courage in the face of adversity, at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

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