Oscar Pistorius' participation at the Athletics World Championships in Daegu this week raises a defiant finger at those who wanted him banned from competing against able-bodied athletes. At the same time it affirms all that is good in the human animal.
In 2008, even though he was close to a second outside the Olympic qualifying time for the 400m – a metaphorical country mile – he was treated as a harbinger for the coming cyborg apocalypse. Elio Locatelli, Director of Development at the IAAF, said that Pistorius' running blades "affect[ed] the purity of the sport. [What we will see] next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back."
Initially the IAAF suggested it would be dangerous for Pistorius to run in a relay because his blades might harm other athletes. Without conclusive proof for the claim that his blades gave him an unfair advantage, the powers-that-be banned him from competing against able-bodied athletes anyway. Pistorius challenged the IAAF's ruling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the decision was reversed after the Court could not find enough evidence to support the claims of the IAAF.
Throughout all of this it was largely forgotten that both his legs were amputated as a baby because of a congenital condition that meant he was born without fibulas. The world's media did not champion the will to compete in 'normal' rugby and waterpolo as a schoolboy, or the sense of humour which allowed him to laugh as he woke up in his school's boarding house to find that his friends had hidden his legs.
The focus was on his performance, bringing to the fore a tension between Pistorius' achievements in objective, scientific terms, and those same successes seen in a personal, metaphysical or spiritual light.
Unsurprisingly, the sports profiteers were quick to spot an opportunity to exploit the courage of the 'fastest man on no legs.' A Nike advertisement featured the following text next to a picture of the Bladerunner:
I was born without bones below the knee.
I only stand 5ft 2.
But this is the body I have been given.
This is my weapon.
How I conquer. How I wage my war.
This is how I have broken the world record 49 times.
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