Updated: June 22, 2007, 4:31 PM ET
PRETORIA, South Africa – International track officials changed their stance on champion amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius and will allow him to compete against able-bodied runners while researchers try to determine whether his prosthetics give him an advantage.
But Nick Davies, spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations, said discussion of Pistorius competing in the Olympics was premature, noting the 20-year-old had not yet run times that would allow him to qualify.
“Oscar can compete. No one can stop him running,” Davies said.
Pistorius’s manager, Peet Van Zyl, said he had heard from Davies over the weekend, and called the overture an about-face. In March, the IAAF introduced a rule banning from competition any runner deemed to benefit from artificial help. That had been interpreted as scuttling Pistorius’ hopes of being the first disabled runner to compete in the Olympic Games, with his sights set on Beijing in 2008.
“They have changed their stance,” Van Zyl said. “This is a totally different stance from when they introduced the rule change.”
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.
Striding on his curved prosthetics, which only touch a few inches of ground, Pistorius now looks as comfortable and light-footed as a gymnast.
He hasn’t yet been able to process the news.
“I have just been putting all my energy in training,” he said Thursday, speaking on his cell phone about whether he would run in an upcoming meet in Italy.
Pistorius has clocked 10.91 seconds in the 100 meters, 21.58 seconds in the 200 and 46.56 seconds in the 400 – world record times for disabled athletes. He finished second in the 400 meters at the South African Championships – an able-bodied meet – in March.
Pistorius’ times wouldn’t qualify him for the Olympics, but he’s close in the 400. He needs to run a 46.3 before the July 2008 qualifying deadline.
“I want to go forward and I can’t if I have to compete only at a local level. The way to go forward is by running against people faster than me,” said Pistorius, dubbed “Blade Runner” because of the shape of the feet on his carbon-fiber prosthetics.
Davies said the March ruling had been misinterpreted. It prohibits the “use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.” It was aimed at sophisticated gadgets manufacturers add to the shoes of top athletes.
Banning Pistorius “was never the purpose of the rule. It was never the intention,” Davies said.
He said the IAAF was going to work with Pistorius to conduct research on the runner and his prosthetics. Davies said one of the aims was developing criteria for prosthetics and other aids.
“Perhaps certain prosthetics will be allowed and others won’t,” he said.
“We need to establish the facts and we want to do this together. We have nothing against disabled athletes, on the contrary, but we need to be fair,” Davies said, saying Pistorius’ case was taking the federation into unfamiliar territory.
“This issue is so new. Oscar is an exceptional athlete, maybe unique. He is on the very edge of disabled and able-bodied sports. No one else has ever done that, that is why we are in the dark,” Davies said.
When Pistorius is not wearing the prosthetics designed for sprinting, he has flesh-colored prosthetics with well-defined calves to fit his muscular frame. A business student from Pretoria, he is adamant his blades give him no advantage or extra energy.
“They are passive devices. If anything I am at more of a disadvantage. I have no ankles. There is less blood flowing through my body. I have no calf muscles so I have to use more muscles to do what they would,” he said. “These exact feet have been used for 14 years and there has never been a paralympic sprinter to run my times.”
Pistorius took his first steps on a pair of fiberglass pegs. Since then he has gone on to play rugby, water polo and tennis. He took up running in 2004 after a rugby injury.
Pistorius’ desire to compete in Beijing is not about winning or making grand points about disability.
“It would be as special for me as the next guy,” he said.