Friday, July 13, 2007

Oscar Pistorius is the double-amputee who races with the help of fuel-injected carbon fiber blades attached below his knees, which, of course, offends the able-bodied sprinters in his midst.

His opponents claim he shows up to the track with a gasoline can in one hand and a quart of oil in the other hand before taking his place in the starting blocks and revving up his fuel-injected carbon fiber blades.

The starter’s gun sounds, and flames shoot from Pistorius’ fuel-injected carbon fiber blades as he quickly leaves the competition in a plume of smoke.

At least his able-bodied detractors have talked themselves into this erroneous vision.

Pistorius will be running against the able-bodied in Rome today and in Sheffield, England, on Sunday after receiving the go-ahead from the International Association of Athletics Federations last month.

“We just want to work with the IAAF and get this thing behind us,” the 20-year-old South African said this week. “It has created a lot of negativity that we obviously get frustrated about. I’d like to see what tests they would like to do, and I’d comply with those tests.”

The negativity helps drive the curious story line of two-legged competitors possibly not having a credible leg on which to stand.

For now, Pistorius has the advantage of being in the heads of his opponents.

The mini-skis on which he runs push the aerodynamic debate, with the IAAF determined to resolve it through research and a through inspection Sunday.

However it turns out, Pistorius remains a testament to the human spirit. Born without a fibula bone in each leg, he underwent amputation at 11 months old.

He took up running to aid his recovery from a rugby injury four years ago. He soon discovered he could run at a speed unlike anyone else on curved blades.

Now here he is, ready to brush up against the best in the 400-meter run, eager to take a beating in the hope he can improve his times and qualify for the Beijing Games next summer.

That is the goal, fanciful or not.

If not next year, then 2012 and 2016.

Who’s to say otherwise, besides the IAAF?

He has come so far already, certainly far enough to concern those with two good limbs, even if he has no known advantage because of his prosthetics.

If running on curved blades were so beneficial, he would not be the first Paralympic sprinter to post times that put him within seconds of the world’s elite.

“There’s absolutely no reason why they should keep me from running,” Pistorius said. “These prosthetics have been around for 14 years, the exact same design. There’s never been an amputee to run close to my time.”

It is not every day that being a double-amputee is perceived to have an advantage in an athletic endeavor.

Pistorius is possibly the first and last double-amputee to compete amid that suspicion.

That could be additional problem in a sport whose practitioners are always looking for an edge, legal or otherwise.

Given the perceived advantage of running on curved blades, there could be a rash of elite runners looking to have their legs amputated from below the knee.

Or not.

Pistorius has plenty of work ahead. His best time in the 400 is 46.56 seconds, far removed from Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18.

Pistorius needs to run a 46.3 before the July deadline next year to qualify for the Olympics. He also will need the approval of the sport’s world governing body, the unconvinced IAAF.

Until then, Pistorius is open to being persuaded that what he has achieved is somehow tainted.

“If they ever could find evidence, then I would stop running,” he said. “It’s not something I would want to compete at if I knew I had an unfair advantage.”

That is a new one, this notion of a runner with no legs possibly having an advantage over runners with two legs.

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