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Breaking Boundaries - Oscar Pistorius

5 September 2011

Bryce Dyer BU’s Bryce Dyer discusses the omission of Oscar Pistorius from the South African Relay team in the World Athletics Championships.

Last week I commented on 400m double amputee Oscar Pistorius participation in the World Athletics Championships. Last thursday night I missed the days coverage because I got sidetracked watching cyclist Bradley Wiggins setting out his own stall out by currently leading in the Tour of Spain bike race.

When I came into work to see the outcome, I discovered that the press had reported Pistorius (whilst helping South Africa get through the rounds of the 4x400m relay), were allegedly dropping him for the final despite being the 2nd fastest 400m runner they had. It should also be noted that his participation helped set a new national record for them in the qualification round. Those reports are here from the Daily Mail and BBC Sport.

One has to wonder why. Is it fair to leave a guy out who hasn’t demonstrated poor form and is actually one of the best they have? It’s easy to jump on the disability bandwagon and claim he’s being marginalised or that SA might not have wanted any publicity surrounding his inclusion, but if that was the case, why include him in the relay qualification at all?

The way I approach this issue is to disregard disability and its discussion completely. Anyone who has run in a team relay of any description will know its not always about the best person - it’s about including the best rested, the best person to go in the right position and fundamentally the best drilled team. Pistorius was reported to be forced to run the first leg (due to safety concerns over his prosthetic legs) and that may have limited SA’s options tactically.

He is allegedly now being replaced by their hurdler LJ van Zyl (who incidentally is the only guy in South Africa to have run faster than him). Put simply, Pistorius may be one of their better runners but the others didn’t have to go through as much of the 400m individual qualifiaction and therefore may have been prefered choices due to being fresher or just that maybe that they trained the relay together, more frequently.

I question this though. I fail to see an elite athlete of that level that can’t handle the stress and strain of both individual and team event participation. The majority of other sprinters from any other country have the same issues. Could you imagine Usain Bolt being left out of Jamaica’s sprint relay team because he might be fatigued from doing both the 100 and 200m? I don’t think so.

No, I suspect another factor (not yet reported) is to blame. Could it be politics? An unreported injury? Or maybe even pressure from elsewhere? SA Team leader Motlatsi Keikabile on the BBC website seemed to give the impression the team really wanted LJ in and that why Pistorius was dropped. So what about the other 3? Were all 3 of them better than Oscar? Well, it should be noted that none, NONE of the other SA relay team took part in the 400m event. Cornel Fredericks took 5th in the 400m hurdles but neither De Beer nor Mogawane seem to have raced in anything else at the games and both are slower than Pistorius.

My opinion on Pistorius has always been that he’s advantaged and disadvantaged so differently to the able-bodied equiavlent, he’s running in a completely different sport philosophically. Give the guy a break though – he was cleared to run by the authorities, he was cleared to run at the games and so let him run until someone proves empirically he can’t.

Either way, Pistorius said on Twitter he was ‘gutted’. Frankly mate, I don’t blame you.

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