Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius (born 22 November 1986) is a South African Paralympic runner. Known as the "Blade Runner" and "the fastest man on no legs", Pistorius, who has a double amputation, is the world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (sport class T44) events and runs with the aid of Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs by Ossur. In 2007 Pistorius took part in his first international competitions for able-bodied athletes. However, his artificial lower legs, while enabling him to compete, generated claims that he has an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners. The same year, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition 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". It claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius. After monitoring his track performances and carrying out tests, scientists took the view that Pistorius enjoyed considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs. On the strength of these findings, on 14 January 2008 the IAAF ruled him ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. This decision was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 16 May 2008, the Court ruling that the IAAF had not provided sufficient evidence to prove that Pistorius's prostheses give him an advantage over able-bodied athletes.
Although eligible to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Pistorius did not qualify for the South African team. Despite achieving third place and a personal best time of 46.25 seconds in the 400 metres in Lucerne, Switzerland, on 16 July 2008, this was short of the Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds. He was also not selected by the South African Olympic Committee for the 4 x 400 metres relay team as there were four other runners who had achieved better times. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, he took the gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (T44) sprints.

Early years and education

Oscar Pistorius was born to Henke and Sheila Pistorius on 22 November 1986 in Sandton, Johannesburg, in Gauteng Province, with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. When he was 11 months old, his legs were amputated halfway between his knees and ankles. He attended Constantia Kloof Primary and Pretoria Boys' High School where, between the ages of 11 and 13, he played rugby union in the school's third XV team, water polo and tennis. He also played water polo and tennis at provincial level. In addition, Pistorius took part in club Olympic wrestling. After a serious rugby knee injury, he was introduced to running in January 2004 while undergoing rehabilitation, and "never looked back".
Pistorius is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) in business management with sports science at the University of Pretoria; in a June 2008 interview for his University's website, he joked: "I won't graduate soon. With all the training I have had to cut down on my subjects. Hopefully I'll finish by the time I'm 30!" His sporting motto is: "You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have."

Sporting career

Known as the "Blade Runner" and "the fastest man on no legs", he took part in the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens and came third overall in the T44 (one leg amputated below the knee) 100-metre event. Despite falling in the preliminary round for the 200 metres, he qualified for the final. He went on to win the final with a world record time of 21.97 seconds, beating American runners with a single ampution Marlon Shirley and Brian Frasure.
In 2005, Pistorius finished first in the able-bodied South African Championships over 400 metres with a world-record time of 47.34 seconds, and at the Paralympic World Cup in the same year he won gold in the 100 metres and 200 metres, beating his previous 200-metre world record. At the 2006 Paralympic Athletics World Championships, Pistorius won gold in the 100, 200 and 400-metre events, breaking the world record over 200 metres. On 17 March 2007, he set a disability sports world record for the 400 metres (46.56 seconds) at the South African Senior Athletics Championships in Durban, and at the Nedbank Championships for the Physically Disabled held in Johannesburg in April 2007, he became the world record holder of the 100 and 200-metre events with times of 10.91 and 21.58 seconds respectively.
Pistorius was invited by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to take part in what would have been his first international able-bodied event, the 400-metre race at the IAAF Grand Prix in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2005. He was unable to attend, however, because of school commitments. On 13 July 2007, Pistorius ran in the 400-metre race at Rome's Golden Gala and finished second in run B with a time of 46.90 seconds, behind Stefano Braciola who ran 46.72 seconds. This was a warm-up for his appearance at the 400 metres at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield on 15 July 2007. As American Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner stumbled at the start of the race and stopped running, Pistorius took seventh place in a field of eight in wet conditions with a time of 47.65 seconds. However, he was later disqualified for running outside his lane. The race was won by American Angelo Taylor with a time of 45.25 seconds. Pistorius has ambitions of competing in other able-bodied events. In particular, he had set his sights on competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, but was ultimately not selected by the South African Olympic Committee
Pistorius's autobiography, Dream Runner, was published in Italian in 2008 by Gianni Merlo, a journalist with La Gazzetta dello Sport. An English version entitled Blade Runner was released in 2009.

Dispute over prosthetics


The South African newspaper The Citizen announcing the IAAF's decision to bar Pistorius from its competitions – photographed in Johannesburg on 16 January 2008.
Pistorius has been the subject of criticism because of claims that his artificial limbs give him an advantage over runners with natural ankles and feet. He runs with J-shaped carbon-fibre prosthetics called the "Cheetah Flex-Foot" manufactured by Icelandic company Ossur. It has been alleged that the "blades" he uses are longer than is necessary, allowing him to cover more ground in each stride. Furthermore, it is said that the Cheetahs return more energy per stridewithout ever becoming fatigued or requiring the same "investment of energy" and that they are not subject to metabolite or lactic acid build-up that slows down other athletes. Pistorius and his coach, Ampie Louw, reject these allegations, saying that his prosthetics do not give him an unfair advantage. They have brought up disadvantages that Pistorius faces, such as rain (which leaves traction hard to attain), wind (which blows the devices sideways), and the fact that he needs more energy to start running than others. Additionally, Professor Robert Gailey of the University of Miami claimed that they return only about 80% of the energy absorbed in each stride, while a natural leg returns up to 240%, providing much more spring
Pistorius has said: "If they [the IAAF] ever found evidence that I was gaining an advantage, then I would stop running because I would not want to compete at a top level if I knew I had an unfair advantage."
On 26 March 2007, the IAAF amended its competition rules to include a ban on 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". It claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius. To decide if he is running with an unfair advantage, the IAAF monitored his track performances using high-definition cameras to film his race against Italian club runners in Rome on 13 July, and his 400 metres in Sheffield on 15 July 2007, at which he placed last. In Rome, the IAAF analysis revealed an unusual "pacing strategy", suggesting a difference in performance that could be explained by the advantage given by the Cheetah prosthetics.
In November 2007, German professor Gert-Peter Br├╝ggemann began testing the artificial limbs for the IAAF. His study found that Pistorius's limbs used 25% 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% less mechanical work for lifting the body. In December, Br├╝ggemann 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." Based on these findings, on 14 January 2008 the IAAF ruled Pistorius's prostheses ineligible for use in competitions conducted under the IAAF rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. Pistorius called the decision "premature and highly subjective" and pledged to continue fighting for his dream. His manager Peet van Zyl said his appeal would be based on advice from United States experts who had said that the report "did not take enough variables into consideration". Pistorius subsequently appealed against the adverse decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and appeared before the tribunal at the end of April 2008.
On 16 May 2008, the CAS reversed the IAAF's ban, clearing the way for Pistorius to try and qualify for the Olympics. In its decision, it held that there was insufficient evidence that Pistorius's prosthetics provided any metabolic advantage over other runners. A major component of the Court's decision was that the prosthetics do not provide an overall advantage to Pistorius in comparison to other runners, when their disadvantages are taken into account. It concluded the IAAF decision did not adequately consider all the various advantages and disadvantages over the course of the entire race, such as Pistorius's slower starts. However, the CAS panel stressed their verdict only applied to the specific case at hand, and that the IAAF might in the future be able to prove the existence of such an advantage, with advances in scientific knowledge and tests designed and carried out to the satisfaction of Pistorius and the IAAF. In response to the announcement, Pistorius said: "My focus throughout this appeal has been to ensure that disabled athletes be given the chance to compete and compete fairly with able-bodied athletes. I look forward to continuing my quest to qualify for the Olympics."

Attempts to qualify for 2008 Summer Olympics

To have a chance of representing South Africa at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in the individual 400-metre race, Pistorius had to attain the Olympic "A" standard time of 45.55 seconds; the "B" qualifying time of 45.95 seconds if no other athlete from his country achieved the faster time did not apply. Each national athletics federation is permitted to enter three athletes in an event if the "A" standard is met, and only one athlete if the "B" standard is met. However, he was eligible for selection as a member of the relay squad without qualifying. His best chance was to try for a time of close to 46 seconds to make the 4 x 400-metre relay team. However, he said: "If I make the team I don't want to be the reserve for the relay, I want to be in the top four. I want to bring something to the race and make the relay stronger." To give him a chance of making the South African Olympic team, selectors delayed naming the team till 17 July.
On 2 July 2008, Pistorius competed in the 400 metres in the B race of the Notturna International in Milan but was "disappointed" when he failed to achieve the minimum Olympic qualification time, completing the race in fourth place in 47.78 seconds. His performance on 11 July 2008 at the Rome Golden Gala was an improvement of more than a second, though his sixth-place time of 46.62 seconds in the B race was still short of the Olympic qualification time. Nonetheless, he was pleased with his performance, commenting that he felt he could improve on it.
On 15 July 2008, IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss commented that the world athletics body preferred that the South African Olympic Committee did not select Pistorius for its 4 x 400 metres relay team "for reasons of safety", saying that Pistorius could cause "serious damage" and risk the physical safety of himself and other athletes if he ran in the main pack of the relay. Pistorius branded this as the IAAF's "last desperate attempt" to get him not to qualify, and threatened legal action if the Federation did not confirm that it had no objections to his participation in the relay. The IAAF responded by issuing a statement saying that Pistorius was welcome to seek qualification for the Olympics and future competitions under IAAF rules: "The IAAF fully respects the recent CAS decision regarding the eligibility of Oscar Pistorius to compete in IAAF competitions, and certainly has no wish to influence the South African Olympic Committee, who has full authority to select a men's 4x400m relay team for the Beijing Olympics."
Despite coming third and running a personal best time of 46.25 seconds at the Spitzen Leichtathletik meeting in Lucerne on 16 July 2008, Pistorius failed in his final opportunity to qualify for the 400 metres at the 2008 Summer Olympics by 0.70 seconds. Athletics South Africa later announced that he would also not be selected for the 4 x 400 metres relay team as four other runners had better times. If Pistorius had been picked, he would have become the first runner with a leg amputation to participate in the Olympic Games. Asked about the possibility of the IAAF offering him a wild card to take part in the Olympics, Pistorius responded, "I do not believe that I would accept. If I have to take part in the Beijing Games I should do it because I qualified." Instead, he expressed a preference for focusing on getting into the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, noting that it was a more realistic target as "[s]printers usually reach their peak between 26 and 29. I will be 25 in London and I'll also have two, three years' preparation."

2008 Summer Paralympics

Pistorius participated in the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (T44). On 9 September, in the heats of the 100 metres, he set a Paralympic record with his time of 11.16 seconds. Later, following a slow start, he rallied to snatch gold from the United States' Jerome Singleton in the 100 metres in a time of 11.17 seconds, 0.03 seconds ahead of the silver medallist. Four days later, on 13 September, the defending Paralympic champion in the 200 metres sprint won his second gold in the event in a time of 21.67 seconds, setting another Paralympic record. He completed a hat-trick by winning gold in the 400 metres in a world-record time of 47.49 seconds on 16 September, calling it "a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life".

Attempts to qualify for 2012 Summer Olympics

Pistorius finished sixth in the 400-meters at the Ostrava Golden Spike meet in May 2011, with a time of 46.19 against a field of able-bodied athletes. Pistorius must meet the ‘A’ qualifying standard of 45.25 to compete at the world championships in Daegu and the London Olympics.

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