Pistorius controversy ignites Paralympics

Posted at 09/03/2012 11:42 PM

LONDON - South Africa's Oscar Pistorius is to meet the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) after he lost his first T44 200m race in nine years and said the length of his rivals' carbon fibre blades was unfair.

The 25-year-old runner, the first double-amputee to run at he Olympics and the most high-profile athlete at the London Paralympics, hit out after he was beaten on the line on Sunday night by Brazil's Alan Oliveira.

Pistorius, who runs on J-shaped "Cheetah" prostheses, complained in a television interview that his fellow competitors, including Oliveira, were "a lot taller" and he was unable to compete with their stride length.

"You saw how far he (Oliveira) came back (down the home straight). We aren't racing a fair race... The regulations allow that athletes can make themselves unbelievably high," he said.

He added that he had raised the issue with the IPC but it had fallen "on deaf ears".

His complaint came amid lingering questions about whether carbon fibre blades give amputee runners an advantage and follows his successful challenge of a ruling that his own blades were unfair to non-disabled athletes.

IPC media and communications director Craig Spence revealed that Pistorius had telephoned him directly six weeks ago about the blade length of his competitors but had told him that there were no infringements.

He attributed Pistorius' comments to the disappointment of losing his first 200m race in nine years and said they were "more than willing" to hear his concerns "in a less hostile environment" than a packed Olympic Stadium.

But he stood firm that there were no infringements in the race.

"Since 2010 we have had rules in place whereby in international competition we measure athletes in the call room prior to a race," Spence told a news conference.

"Last night (Sunday) we measured all eight athletes in the call room prior to competition. This was done by an international classifier. They were measured, we had the signature of the classifier and all eight were legitimate to race."

IPC regulations stipulate that maximum length of prostheses for amputee athletes in T42 (above-the-knee), T43 (double below-the-knee) and T44 (single leg below-the knee) track races and they have to be proportionate.

Upper limits for artificial leg lengths are calculated using a mathematical formula based on the length of an athlete's arm span as well as the distance from their sternum (chest) to the tip of the affected limb or limbs.

An additional 3.5 percent of that result is factored in to replicate running action, where a non-disabled athlete runs on his or her toes, said IPC medical and scientific director Peter Van Der Vliet.

Pistorius later apologised for the timing of his comments, saying he "would never want to detract from another athletes' moment of triumph".

But he added: "I do believe that there is an issue here and I welcome the opportunity to discuss with the IPC but I accept that raising these concerns immediately as I stepped off the track was wrong.

"That was Alan's moment and I would like to put on record the respect I have for him. I am a proud Paralympian and believe in the fairness of sport. I am happy to work with the IPC who obviously share these aims."

The controversy has become the main talking point of the Games, which started last Wednesday and run through to Sunday.

But Spence said he did not believe it had overshadowed the event, which this year has been a near-sell out for the first time in its 52-year history.

"Years ago when we had absolutely no media awareness and no coverage we would never have had this. It's a sign of how far Paralympic sport has progressed and obviously we need a good resolution of the issue," he said.