Talking Sport with Neil Trainis
PUBLISHED: 14:00 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:08 02 July 2010
2007 Getty Images
THE Olympic Games provides an arena for the realisation of dreams as well as potential but in Oscar Pistorius, there is the danger of being swept away by romanticism. It is understandable that onlookers peering in from the outside, as well as many within
THE Olympic Games provides an arena for the realisation of dreams as well as potential but in Oscar Pistorius, there is the danger of being swept away by romanticism.
It is understandable that onlookers peering in from the outside, as well as many within athletics, regard the South African Paralympic sprinter's bid to compete in Beijing later this year as inspired determination.
The 21-year-old trains and competes with an infectious enthusiasm absent in many able-bodied athletes despite having had his legs amputated below the knees at the age of 11 months, after been born with a congenital foot defect that left him without fibulae in both legs.
His life up to now, far from being restricted, has been a stirring story of motivation in the face of adversity. Anyone interested in tracing his life story will discover a resolute young man who has never allowed the cruelty of fate to dictate the present.
He turned out for the Pretoria Boys' High School third XV rugby union team, played Northern States water polo and state tennis from 11 to 13 before dabbling in club Olympic wrestling.
It could have been the script of a tear-jerking American soap-drama. Here was a young man who has had to contend with being 'different' to everyone else but who has proved his uniqueness through an unquenchable hunger to succeed rather than his appearance.
Undeterred by his disability, one which he incidentally refuses to perceive as such (his motto is 'You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have'), he has constantly been proving wrong preconceived notions that having no legs automatically means a limit to what can be achieved.
He has fed off that and many have been encapsulated by his desire to make his mark in an increasingly superficial world where growing importance is placed on image rather than substance.
Pistorius' dedication may well make a few within the Lawn Tennis Association feel a little queasy given the admission last year from its chief executive Roger Draper that many British players lack the application to succeed at the highest levels.
One British male in the world's top 100 players and zilch in the women's game backs up Draper's suggestion and generates a stark, if somewhat uncomfortable, contrast.
British tennis players lack the stomach to push themselves to the limit yet Pistorius runs on J-shaped prosthetic limbs and has maintained a commitment and appetite that has driven him to world records in the 100m, 200m and 400m as well as compelled him to face able-bodied athletes head on.
His audacity puts underachievers to shame and has shaken the structure of athletics to its very roots, prompting the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) last year to introduce a rule prohibiting "technical aids", preventing Pistorius from competing on the biggest sporting stage of all.
His dream is to run at the Olympics and the backdrop to the debate that has gathered pace in recent months - whether his carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied competitors - provides a moral dilemma.
It is one that is double-pronged; do Pistorius' prosthetics limbs provide an advantage to the extent it takes away from the spirit of fair competition that underpins the Olympics? Will his entry to the Beijing Olympics open a can of worms that would forever contaminate the sport?
"With all due respect, we cannot accept something that provides advantages. It affects the purity of sport," Elio Locatelli, IAAF director of development, said in answer to the first point before leaving no doubt where his organisation stand on the second. "Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back."
The IAAF have not brushed the issue under the carpet. They financed research to discover an answer and a 30-page document compiled by Gert-Peter Bruggemann, professor of biomechanics at the German Sport University in Cologne, who spent two days with Pistorius, found that the artificial limbs gave him a "considerable advantage".
Based on the findings the IAAF ruled that Pistorius not be allowed to compete in events that fall under its remit but in typically resilient fashion, he intends to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for sport.
"If they ever found evidence that I was gaining an advantage, then I would stop running because I would not want to compete at a top level if I knew I had an unfair advantage," he recently suggested.
The arguments against Pistorius, however, appear clear and those promoting his cause, at this juncture, more groundlessly romantic.
His brashness and confidence amid hardship is refreshing in an age where many sportsmen are motivated by money and glamour but practicality must override idealism. It is hard to disagree with the IAAF on this point.