Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Amputee runner Oscar Pistorius wins appeal


Amputee runner Oscar Pistorius wins appeal
By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press Writer

MILAN, Italy (AP)—His Olympic dream suddenly revived, Oscar Pistorius can get back to what he loves most—running.

The double-amputee sprinter from South Africa was cleared Friday to compete in his bid to qualify for the Beijing Games.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations that barred the 21-year-old runner from the Olympics and any other able-bodied competition because of his prosthetic racing blades.

Pistorius broke into a broad smile to a roomful of applause when the decision was announced. He reached toward his manager, Peet van Zyl, for a victory handshake.

“I am ecstatic,” Pistorius said. “When I found out I was crying. It is a battle that has been going on for far too long. It’s a great day for sport. I think this day is going to go down in history for the equality of disabled people.”

He is the first to acknowledge it will be a challenge to make it to the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games. He holds the 400-meter Paralympic world record of 46.56, but must reach the qualifying time of 45.55 to compete in the individual event in Beijing.

“My hopes are very big for the Olympics for 2008,” Pistorius said. “I think the time period at the moment is very short. Obviously, I have the opportunity, so I am not going to let it go … but it is going to be very difficult in order to run those times.”

However, Pistorius also could be invited to join the South African relay team, which would not require him to qualify.

“We are very much hopeful that he will be part and parcel of our team,” said Leonard Chuene, president of Athletics South Africa.

If Pistorius does go to the Olympics, he will be competing alongside another amputee South African athlete: Natalie du Toit, who qualified for Beijing in open-water swimming.

Pistorius was born without fibulas—the long, thin outer bone between the knee and ankle—and was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee.

“Oscar Pistorius is a determined and gutsy athlete who will now no doubt put all his energy into reaching the qualification standards for the Olympic Games,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement. “If he makes it we would be delighted to welcome him.”

Pistorius will resume training in South Africa on Monday, before returning to Europe on May 28. Van Zyl said Pistorius will be running in able-bodied races July 2 in Milan and July 11 at the Golden Gala in Rome, and that many other offers have been coming in.

“A lot of the time we’ve had this year we’ve devoted to the court case,” Pistorius said. “Now when I get home my time can be dedicated to training. I am going to have to start thinking about getting my body in shape in order to run those (qualifying) times. I am hopeful there will be enough time but it is going to be very difficult.”

Regardless of whether he runs in the Olympics, Pistorius plans to compete in Beijing at the Sept. 6-17 Paralympics. He will prepare by running in disabled events in the Netherlands and Germany.

Pistorius appealed to CAS, the highest tribunal in international sports, to overturn a Jan. 14 ruling by the IAAF. Track and field’s ruling organization banned him from competing against able-bodied runners on grounds that his carbon fiber blades gave him a mechanical advantage.

A two-day hearing was held before three arbitrators at CAS headquarters last month. The panel said the IAAF decision is “revoked with immediate effect and the athlete is eligible to compete in IAAF events.”

“Oscar will be welcomed wherever he competes this summer,” IAAF president Lamine Diack said in a statement. “He is an inspirational man and we look forward to admiring his achievements in the future.”

Even if Pistorius fails to get the 400-meter qualifying time, South African selectors could add the University of Pretoria student to the Olympic 1,600-meter relay squad if it qualifies for the games among the top 16 in the world.

Pistorius would not require a qualifying time and could be taken to Beijing as an alternate. Six runners can be picked for the relay squad.

The IAAF based its January decision on studies by German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann, who said the J-shaped “Cheetah” blades were energy efficient

Pistorius’ lawyers countered with independent tests conducted by a team led by MIT professor Hugh M. Herr that claimed to show he doesn’t gain any advantage over able-bodied runners.

CAS said the IAAF failed to prove Pistorius’ running blades gave him an advantage.

“If I had to look at the situation, how many amputee athletes use the exact same prosthetic leg as I do and don’t run nearly close to the same times?” Pistorius said. “I think running has become my purpose in life. It has become my calling in life.”

Associated Press Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed to this report.


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