Paralympic blade controversy

Oscar Pistorius has been dubbed the “the fastest man on no legs” and is an iconic figure within the world of “disabled sports” and is the face of the Paralympic 2012 Games.

When the much favoured Pistorius shockingly came second to the Brazilian Alan Oliveira in the final of the men’s T44 200m a furore was sparked.

Pistorius claimed that he was “not running a fair race” and that his rivals were artificially extending the length of their legs: “it’s very clear that the guys have got very long strides”.

But what had seemed like a reasonable if ironic claim given that there had been concerns raised about Pistorius competing in the Olympics 400m and whether his blades offered an unfair advantage over his able bodied rivals has been cast in a new light by two things.

Firstly is Ross Tucker’s scientific analysis of the race for The Guardian. The crux of the argument is that Oliveira who has indeed extended the length of his blades in recent months had done so to the extent that his stride length was now unfairly greater than that of Pistorius.

However according to Tucker’s analysis this is not at all the case and that Pistorius stride length is still greater at an average of 2.2 m to Oliveira’s 2m and taking 6 fewer strides than his Brazilian rival.

But of course racing is about much more than simply stride length and it is here that we hit a slippery slope that could undermine what the Paralympics is about. But before we go down that slope let’s look at the second moment from these games that casts Pistorius’s claim in a new light.

The second event was Jonnie Peacock’s victory in the men’s T44 100m in which Pistorius came fourth.

Peacock is missing only his right leg below the knee and consequently runs with a single blade in comparison to Oliveira and Pistorius who are missing both legs and run with twin blades. As such Peacock doesn’t have the scope to lengthen his blade as he needs to maintain balance with his left leg.

Oscar Pistorius was a pioneer and as with many other pioneers it is becoming clear that he is now getting overtaken by those who are following in his footsteps. This is partly to do with the improvements in sport technology but also to do with Pistorius’s fame and the associated interest in disabled sports. A greater number of people are recognising that their disabilities are not an obstacle to becoming great athletes.

By Matt Wharton

Matt Wharton is a dad, vlogger and IT Infrastructure Consultant. He was also in a former life a cinema manager.

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