Oscar Pistorius was born November 22, 1986 in Johannesburg, South Africa with a physical disorder called congenital absence of the fibula. At just 11 months, young Oscar underwent surgery to have both legs amputated at mid-shin. As harrowing as this all sounds, you’d be hard pressed to even suggest this inauspicious start to life has in any way hindered or otherwise slowed down the 25-year-old South African, set to become the first amputee to run in the Summer Olympics.
Pistorius will compete in the 400 meters and the 4×400 meters relay for the South African Olympic team, but it wasn’t an easy or traditional path to the vaunted games. In fact, it required a lawsuit and appeal of biased findings for Oscar to even be in a position to qualify alongside able-bodied Olympic aspirants.
Known as “Blade Runner” and sometimes “the fastest man with no legs,” Pistorius took part in a wide range of sports as a young student. By age 13, he had already played rugby, water polo, and tennis. He was also a wrestler. His running career, oddly enough, came on the heels of a serious knee injury while playing rugby in 2003. By early 2004, Pistorius was undergoing rehabilitation on his knee in preparation for learning how to run at competitive levels.
As a precursor to becoming a world class runner, the South African took part in the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece. Competing in his first T44 (the classification for runners with at least one leg amputated below the knee) event, Pistorius took third overall in the 100 meters event. In the same Paralympics, he set a world record in the 200 meters with a time of 21.97 seconds, beating two American runners with single amputations, Marlon Shirley and Brian Frasure.
Despite these successes, there was plenty of criticism to be found regarding his J-shaped carbon prosthetics called the “Cheetah Flex-Foot” by Icelandic manufacturer, Ossur.
In 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body over all international athletics competitions, changed its rules to ban 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.” The question, of course, is whether or not the use of prosthetic devices constitutes an advantage over able-bodied athletes.
After filming several of Pistorius’ competitions with high-definition cameras, Dr. Peter Brüggemann, professor of biomechanics at Cologne Sports University, declared that Oscar’s prosthetic limbs “used 25 percent less energy than runners with complete natural legs to run at the same speed, and that they led to less vertical motion combined with 30 percent less mechanical work for lifting the body.”
Brüggemann told “Die Welt” newspaper that Pistorius “has considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs who were tested by us. It was more than just a few percentage points. I did not expect it to be so clear.”
As a result of Dr. Brüggemann’s findings, the IAAF made Pistorius ineligible for any competitions conducted under their rules, which includes Olympic competition.
Scientists at Rice University in Houston, Texas disputed these findings, stating they only took into account full-speed running in a straight line, ignoring the challenges any double amputee faces at the beginning of the race (acceleration), as well as those faced when running around the two turns of 400-meter races. Just a year later, in May 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) upheld Pistorius’ appeal, causing the IAAF decision to immediately be revoked. This paved the way for Pistorius to engage himself in the Olympic qualifying process.
Pistorius failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, falling short of times necessary for consideration. This served as motivation for Pistorius to set his sights on the 2012 Olympics in London, England.
Since 2008, Pistorius has competed at incredibly high levels, including wins in the T44 400 meters and 100 meters at the BT Paralympic World Cup in May 2011, which propelled him to Olympic “A” standards for qualification purposes.
On July 4, 2012 the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee announced that Pistorius will represent the nation at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 400 meters and 4×400 meters relay races, becoming the first double amputee runner in any Olympic games.
Roger Pistorius, in the prime of his life, has paved the way and shown the world that “disabled” is really just “differently” abled, and qualifying for any Olympic event should be open to all comers who can meet the time requirements.