Oscar Pistorius, Double Amputee Olympic Sprinter

As incredible as it sounds, a man with no legs will be able to compete as a sprinter in the 2008 Olympics.

Oscar Pistorius Photo Stu Forster/Getty Images In its ruling, the CAS said the IAAF failed to prove that Oscar Pistorius

Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius won his appeal Friday and can compete for a place in the Beijing Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the 21-year-old South African is eligible to race against able-bodied athletes, overturning a ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

More amazing: the opponents argue that he has an unfair advantage.

Pistorius appealed to CAS, world sport’s highest tribunal, to overturn a Jan. 14 ruling by the IAAF that banned him from competing. The IAAF said his carbon fiber blades give him a mechanical advantage.


“The panel was not persuaded that there was sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage in favor of a double-amputee using the Cheetah Flex-Foot,” CAS said. “Furthermore, the CAS panel has considered that the IAAF did not prove that the biomechanical effects of using this particular prosthetic device gives Oscar Pistorius an advantage over other athletes not using the device.”

It’s hard not to admire Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and had his legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday, and wish him all the best.

At the same time, those of us who grew up watching “The Six Million Dollar Man” and its spinoffs can certainly envision a scenario where those with prosthetic limbs do have an advantage over the “able bodied.” And what’s the standard for assessing that? No better than the best human legs ever in existence? Knowing how obsessive competitive athletes can be — survey after survey shows they’re willing to risk losing years of their life if they can win now — we might see the day when someone decides it’s worth it to have perfectly healthy legs amputated.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, Sports,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ken says:

    Tom Dempsey, New Orleans Saints, kicked a 63 yard field goal in 1970. He had half a foot; other kickers contested the record boot. The front of his shoe looked like a sledge hammer so there was some validity to their claim, but the record kick counted.

  2. Is it strictly true to say he has no legs?

    It is amazing that any prothetics without a power source could allow him to compete at this level. But where do you draw the line? If he had prosthetics that had wheels on it, would that be fair? How do you determine what an unfair advantage is?

  3. I think he should be allowed to run. But was the WaPo brings up, where do we draw the line when technology starts making those who are disabled more abled than everyone else?

  4. William d'Inger says:

    More amazing: the opponents argue that he has an unfair advantage.

    There’s nothing amazing about it. I can’t find the data at the moment, and don’t have time to research it, but I have read those things provide runners with significant mechanical advantage. As I understand it, the effect is greater than taking steriods.

    P.S. I have always felt Tom Dempsey’s shoe gave him an unfair advantage.

  5. floyd says:

    How about a hemi powered wheel chair?[with nitrous!]
    But seriously, how about leaf springs on the shoe soles of ordinary sprinters?

  6. aw says:

    well .. the true intent of the olympics has been compromised…

    obviously ….and my statement is not made to denigrate any challenged people!!!..

    but one does start to wonder::…is all this just for the sake of Pistorius’ ego, instead of the true spirit of the Olympics…

    oh well.. sigh

  7. aw says:

    this seems to be the death of the OLYMPICS.

    who will watch..or care..after a few more years of such decisions???


  8. Grewgills says:

    Why can’t they just manufacture the blades such that any mechanical advantage is neutralized and approve certain prosthetics for use and not others?

  9. James Joyner says:

    Why can’t they just manufacture the blades such that any mechanical advantage is neutralized and approve certain prosthetics for use and not others?

    Presumably, that’s what they’ve tried to do in this case. But, as my last paragraph hints at, it’s not that simple. “Mechanical advantage” as compared to what? The best human feet, ankles, knees, ligaments, tendons, etc.? The average? If the former, it’s certainly an advantage, since it stands to reason that the person wouldn’t otherwise be that good.

  10. William d'Inger says:

    Clearly, the decision was made for political correctness rather than for technological reasons, but I can’t blame Pistorius for making the effort. The TimesOnline site says the decision has bumped his appearance fees up to £20,000 a pop (which is something like US$40K).

  11. Just be glad East Germany and the U.S.S.R. no longer exist. I’d hate to imagine what they might have done.

  12. Eneils Bailey says:

    I admire his courage.
    But, I question the wisdom of this ruling. A ruling today may have unintended consequences tomorrow.