A few weeks ago, the London Olympics closed in a spectacular closing ceremony almost as grandiose as its opening. Yet, for many, the dreams of world records and gold medals are not over. On August 29th, the London 2012 Paralympics opened, bringing a record 4,200 athletes to London to compete in 20 events. Although I am an enormous fan of the Olympics and look forward to the Games every two years, I am even more in awe of those athletes who compete in the Paralympics. The most famous of these incredible athletes is Oscar Pistorius.Pistorius is by far the most famous Paralympian athlete for the simple reason that he is also an Olympic athlete as well. At this year’s Olympic Games, Pistorius made history by becoming the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympic Games. Although he did not medal, his mere presence was an incredible personal victory and an inspiration for “disabled” athletes the world over.In his journey to Olympic competition, Pistorius faced a rather unique challenge; namely, whether or not he has an unfair advantage against natural bodied runners. A double-amputee, Pistorius uses a Cheetah Flex-Foot to enable him to run. He began competing against able-bodied athletes in 2004. In 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) changed its rules to ban the use of technical devices, effectively preventing him from competing. Later that year, Pistorius was tested at Cologne Sports University to determine if he did in fact enjoy an advantage. That test claimed that he did have an advantage while running full speed. Based on this test, the IAAF ruled that his prosthetics fell into the ban and Pistorius was ineligible to compete in IAAF-sanctioned events. Pistorius appealed the IAAF ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”). The tribunal repealed the IAAF’s decision, agreeing with Pistorius that the prior test had not taken into account the net effect of his prosthetics on a whole race. Subsequent testing showed that he enjoyed no net benefit because the extra advantage he gained at full speed was balanced out by greater difficulty starting and accelerating. The CAS emphasized that this ruling related to Pistorius alone.
Subsequent to the ruling by the CAS, the IAAF immediately revoked its ban and Pistorius became free to compete against able-bodied athletes once again. His initial attempt to qualify for the 2008 Olympics was unsuccessful. In the summer of 2011, he posted a personal best in the 400 meter event of 45.07 seconds, finally qualifying him for the Olympics.
Oscar Pistorius is an inspiration. Never remembering having his full legs, Pistorius has never let his disability slow him down. He is a highly decorated Paralympian and now he is an accomplished Olympian. In his own words: “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”
For further reading, the CAS ruling may be found here: http://jurisprudence.tas-cas.org/sites/CaseLaw/Shared%20Documents/1480.pdf
John M. Burnor is a 3L at Quinnipiac Law School and has a concentration in Intellectual Property Law. John is a Student Columnist for Connecticut Sports Law.