Double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius will compete in two events during the 2012 Olympics in London, making him the first amputee track athlete to compete in the games.
“Today is truly one of the proudest days of my life,” Pistorius told the Associated Press. The South African athlete, nicknamed “Blade Runner” for the Flex-Foot Cheetah blades on which he runs, will compete in the individual 400-meter race and the 4x400 relay.
“Woke up this morning rested and overcome with Joy!” Pistorius tweeted today. “Think it’ll take a couple of days to set in! Had a insane speed session and feel STRONG!”
The AP reported that the athlete needed to run the 400 in at least 45.30 seconds to qualify for the 400-meter race, but missed it by a quarter of a second in his last qualifying race at the African Championships. Nevertheless, the South African Olympic Committee gave Pistorius a spot on the team, with some speculating that his previous fast times may have factored into the decision.
“Since he’s going to be there (in London), our decision is he can run both,” South African Olympic Committee chief executive Tubby Reddy told the AP. “There’s no reason why he can’t. Our decision is he can.”
This is a hard-won victory for 25-year-old Pistorius, who has earned medals in the Paralympic games and has competed against athletes with intact legs in international competitions. His carbon fiber blades, made by California-based prosthetics company Ossur, have been the subject of controversy throughout his track career.
He’s been banned from competing with able-bodied athletes amid allegations that the blades give him an advantage over able-bodied athletes (he was subsequently reinstated). Those blades have been the subject of published medical journal studies, one of which showed that while he does use less energy than sprinters with two intact legs, he also has less muscle.
Pistorius was born without fibulas, or calf bones, and his legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old.
One of the athlete’s loyal supporters is Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s a great day for sports in particular, and more broadly, it’s a great day for equal rights,” Herr told The New York Times. “There’s not evidence that the running prostheses allow him to run at a faster pace than is biologically achievable. To me, it was always a case of equality.”
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