Doug Robinson: Complaints from Oscar Pistorius come across as bitter, sour grapes

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 7:47 p.m. MDT

Gold medal winner Brazil's Alan Oliveira, left, shakes hands with silver medalist South Africa's Oscar Pistorius during the medal ceremony for the men's 200m T44 category final during the athletics competition at the 2012 Paralympics, Monday, Sept. 3, 2012, in London. Pistorius, who won a legal battle to compete wearing carbon-fiber blades alongside able-bodied runners at the Olympics last month, suggested after the race that Oliveira ran with longer prosthesis than should be allowed. (AP Photo)

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Wait a minute, somebody please tell me that Oscar Pistorius, the South African paralympic sprinter, didn't say what he said at the London Paralympic Games a few days ago.

Tell me he didn't complain that he lost a race because one of his rivals lengthened his prosthetic legs and it wasn't "fair."

Are you kidding me?

There are so many things wrong with what he said it's difficult to know where to begin, but let's start here:

Immediately after losing the 200-meter dash finals to Brazil's Alan Oliveira — who overcame a big deficit to pass him at the finish line — and finishing just ahead of America's Blake Leeper, Pistorius said, "Not taking away from Alan's performance — he's a great athlete — but these guys are a lot taller and you can't compete (with the) stride length. You saw how far he came back. We aren't racing a fair race. I gave it my best. The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have their regulations. The regulations (allow) that athletes can make themselves unbelievably high."

Does he really want to go there? The irony is so rich you could cut it with one of Pistorius's carbon-fiber blades, especially the part when he claimed it was "unfair?"

That was the argument that was used against Pistorius in his years-long battle to compete against able-bodied athletes. Scientists believe that his carbon-fiber Cheetah Flex-Feet give him an advantage over his able-bodied rivals, and many track aficionados believe he should not be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes, as he did in the London Olympics.

"It was dead obvious as soon as (biochemist Matthew Bundle and I) saw the data that Oscar has an advantage," physiologist Peter Weyand told Sports Illustrated. "We haven't wavered from that interpretation since."

After being banned from able-bodied competition several years ago, Pistorius won an appeal and was allowed to compete anyway.

Now Pistorius is arguing the same thing that his able-bodied athletes argued when they didn't want to run against him. If you believe Pistorius, his artificial legs don't give him an advantage over flesh and blood legs, but his opponents' longer artificial legs give them advantage over his artificial legs.

The irony got even richer when Pistorius pointed to Oliveira's late rally as proof of his rival's advantage. "... You can't come back (that much)," he said. "I run just over 10 meters per second and I don't know how you can come back ... from eight meters behind on the 100 to win. It's absolutely ridiculous."

That is precisely what some observers said about Pistorius when he ran down able-bodied athletes in the home stretch. As Sports Illustrated noted, he has roughly the same 200-meter time as Allyson Felix, but his 400-meter time is four seconds faster — proof for some observers that his lighter, springier artificial legs don't fatigue like flesh-and-blood legs.

In complaining about the length of the artificial limbs, Pistorius has opened a can of worms. This constant and ultimately futile attempt to make the world equitable — especially in sports — is impossible. Where will it end? Will we need a category for tall carbon fiber legs and short carbon fiber legs? A category for titanium-legged athletes? Graphite-legged athletes? Artificial legs with springs in them? For that matter, separate competitions for tall able-bodied sprinters and small able-bodied sprinters? Or black sprinters and white sprinters? Or sprinters with predominantly fast-twitch muscle fiber and sprinters with predominantly slow-twitch muscle fibers?

There are inequities in size, speed, neuromuscular systems, body types, cardiovascular systems, etc. — should we try to even that up, as well? If Pistorius were an able-bodied sprinter, would he protest that Usain Bolt has an unfair advantage because he is 6-foot-5 and has a stride length that is nearly 10 feet?

At some point, let's apply some common sense. Able-bodied athletes compete against able-bodied athletes; paralympic athletes against paralympic athletes. There's nothing unfair about that. The reason paralympic competition was created in the first place was to create fairness and opportunity. It's unfair to for paralympic athletes to compete against able-bodied athletes — unfair for both.

Meanwhile, with a single outburst of poor sportsmanship, Pistorius negated some of the goodwill he engendered in the Olympics, which might lead to some re-examination of the fairness of his foray into able-bodied competition. He doesn't want to go there.

Email: drob@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS