Monday, January 14, 2008

Amputee sprinter ruled ineligible for Olympics

Associated Press
Updated: January 14, 2008, 1:45 PM ESTMONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) - All his life, Oscar Pistorius has had to battle adversity. Competing in the Beijing Olympics is a challenge the double-amputee runner may not be able to overcome.

The IAAF ruled Monday that the South African is ineligible to compete in Beijing — or any other sanctioned able-bodied competitions — because his "Cheetah" racing blades are considered "technical aids" which give him a clear competitive advantage.

The IAAF ruled on Monday that Oscar Pistorius cannot participate in the Beijing Olympics. (Andrew Medichini / Associated Press)

"An athlete using this prosthetic blade has a demonstrable mechanical advantage (more than 30 percent) when compared to someone not using the blade," the IAAF said.

The 21-year-old Pistorius had long learned not to consider his artificial legs a hindrance, even refusing to park his car in a spot for disabled people. Now the sport he learned to love as a teenager has thrown up a huge obstacle, just as he was making his name among the world's able-bodied athletes.

"That's a huge blow," said Pistorius' manager, Peet Van Zyl. "He has been competing in South African able-bodied competition for the past three years. At this stage it looks like he is out of any able-bodied event."

Van Zyl spoke briefly with Pistorius, saying he "could hear from his voice that he is disappointed."

Pistorius said last week he would appeal "to the highest levels" if the ruling went against him. He could take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The International Olympic Committee said it "respects" the IAAF decision.

"This decision has nothing to do with Oscar Pistorius' athletic merits. What is important is to ensure fair competition," the IOC said in a statement.

South Africa's national athletics federation feels bound by the IAAF rules and must keep Pistorius out of some national races he has entered for several years.

"It rules him out with immediate effect. We use the IAAF rule book," South Africa federation president Leonard Chuene said. "If we had our rules and our own competition it would be easier. It is a huge problem." Pistorius finished second in the 400 meters at the South African National Championships last year against able-bodied runners.

"It's unfortunate because he could have boosted team athletics at the Olympics," Chuene said.

The IAAF made its decision based on a study from German Professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann, who found several indicators the Cheetah blades provided an unfair edge.

The federation said Pistorius had been allowed to compete in some able-bodied events until now because his case was so unique that such artificial protheses had not been properly studied.

"We did not have the science," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "Now we have the science."

No one directly questioned the findings of Brueggemann. The producer of Pistorius' Cheetahs and the International Paralympic Committee said, though, that more tests should be undertaken before such a decision could be taken.

Considering the Olympics open less than seven months from now and that he still needs to run a qualifying time without having the right to compete in IAAF events further reduces the possibilities for Pistorius.

The ruling does not affect his eligibility for Paralympic events, in which he was a gold medalist in Athens in 2004.

The runner worked with Brueggemann in Cologne for two days of testing in November to learn to what extent the j-shaped carbon-fiber extensions to his amputated legs differed from the legs of fully-abled runners.

Brueggemann found that Pistorius was able to run at the same speed as able-bodied runners on about a quarter less energy. He found that once the runners hit a certain stride, athletes with artificial limbs needed less additional energy than other athletes.

The professor found that the returned energy "from the prosthetic blade is close to three times higher than with the human ankle joint in maximum sprinting."

The IAAF adopted a rule last summer prohibiting the use of any "technical aids" deemed to give an athlete an advantage over another.

Pistorius has set world records in the 100, 200 and 400 in Paralympic events.

Pistorius was born without fibulas — the long, thin outer bone between the knee and ankle — and was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee.

He began running competitively four years ago to treat a rugby injury, and nine months later won the 200 meters at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.

Pistorius competed in the 400 at two international-level able-bodied meets in 2007. He finished second in a B race in 46.90 seconds at the Golden League meet in Rome on July 13 and, two days later, was disqualified for running out of his lane in Sheffield, England.

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