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Oscar Pistorius and the Paralympic #Bladegate Controversy

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

South African double amputee and the first athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics Games in the same year, Oscar Pistorius, attracted attention after being beaten to second place in the T44 200 metre men’s final. He had previously set a new world record in the men's T44 200 metre heats.

Ten Percent or Less blog explains how afterwards the athlete, a specialist in the 100 metre, 200 metre and the one-lap 400 metre, stated this of the winner Brazilian Alan Oliveira:

I can't compete with Alan's stride length……it's very clear that the guys have got very long strides

Oscar Pistorius congratulates Brazil's Alan Oliveira after he won the Paralympic T44 200 metres at the London Paralympic games. The favourite Oscar Pistorius came in only second after the world record in the qualification heat. Image by Mauro Ujetto, copyright Demotix (02/09/12).

Oscar Pistorius congratulates Brazil's Alan Oliveira after he won the Paralympic T44 200 metres at the London Paralympic games. The favourite Oscar Pistorius came in only second after the world record in the qualification heat. Image by Mauro Ujetto, copyright Demotix (02/09/12).

The blogger earlier gave an introduction of what Oscar Pistorius had previously achieved:

So much of the Olympic and Paralympic coverage has been centered around the ‘Blade Runner', Oscar Pistorius. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics and in no way was he just making up the numbers, reaching the 400m semi-finals and 4x400m final. Considering the fact he competes with, and beats able-bodied athletes it's understandable that he's always a favourite for any race he enters limited to athletes with below knee amputations.

Going on to give a detailed breakdown of why Pistorius was wrong in making that statement against Oliveira:

Firstly this just isn't the case. Pistorius took 92 strides (49 in the first 100m, 43 in the second), Oliveira took 98 (52 in the first 100m, 46 in the second). Pistorius’ stides are actually longer than Oliveira's, it's Oliveira who can't compete with Pistorius’ stride length.

Secondly Pistorius stated “the guys’ legs are unbelievably long”, an issue Pistorius says he brought up with the IPC weeks before the games. The IPC has a formula to limit the length of blades based on what they estimate the athlete's height would be if they had both legs. Oliveira's blades are completely legal, falling within the measurements allowed by the IPC. Pistorius could actually lengthen his blades if he wished so I'm not entirely sure why he believes Oliveira's blade length is unfair.

Another point to consider is how ‘slow’ Pistorius ran rather than how ‘fast' Oliveira did. Pistorius covered the 200m distance 0.28 seconds slower than he did the previous day, 21.30 seconds (a new world record) compared to 21.58. Were the comments following the race a result of disappointment from a tired athlete? It's entirely possible, Pistorius running a much slower final would certainly suggest that. Let's not forget Oliveira has been able to prepare specifically for the Paralympics while Pistorius has been competing far more over the last month as well as dealing with substantially more media commitments.

MakeMeaDiva Blog in a post titled “Oscar Pistorius #Bladegate” states:

In case you’ve been on Mars for the last 24 hours, #Bladegate refers to the T44 category 200m final at the Paralympics last night, where Pistorius was narrowly beaten into second place by the Brazilian athlete Alan Oliveira. Pistorius was not expecting to be beaten. Once into the home straight he was in splendid isolation with only the wind for company… until the last 10 metres. Oliveira came roaring up the outside to take the gold medal on the line.”

In case you’ve been on Mars for the last 24 hours, #Bladegate refers to the T44 category 200m final at the Paralympics last night, where Pistorius was narrowly beaten into second place by the Brazilian athlete Alan Oliveira.

Pistorius was not expecting to be beaten. Once into the home straight he was in splendid isolation with only the wind for company… until the last 10 metres. Oliveira came roaring up the outside to take the gold medal on the line.

Still, Pistorius’s remarks were clearly mistimed and made in the heat of the moment; by this morning his head was in back in charge and he made a more measured statement. He still maintained his concern about the fairness of the blades used by his conqueror in the race in his conclusion, saying:

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. 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.

There are more details explaining why Oliveira beat Pistorius:

The longer blades do cause athletes to have a slower start, Oliveira was left standing when the gun went off last night and was racing well in arrears, but down the straight the longer blades store more elastic energy allowing the athlete to maintain speed whilst using less energy than someone on shorter ones, like Pistorius… This is probably because the longer blades do give you an advantage in the straight, but this offset by running more slowly at the start and whilst runnning the bend. It’s down to the athlete which tactics they want to employ. Oliveira and his team, by switching to the longer blades only three weeks ago, took a gamble. It paid off, just. Pistorius’s gamble was running a very fast half of the race, he then paid for attacking the first 100m by having to slow down a bit in the closing stages. His gamble did not pay off, but again, it was so close. This would have only made it worse from his point of view.

Pistorius raced on the blades he ran on in the Olympics. Under the rule book he too could go for longer blades – his maximum permitted height on racing blades, as things stand, would take him to 193 cm tall. His current blades means he stands 184 cm. He could add an extra 9 cm to his height and this would mean if Oliveira stuck with his current prostheses at 181 cm, Pistorius could gain a 12 cm height advantage over his rival. Of course, it is not standing taller that necessarily gives the advantage, it is the longer blade being used, and that advantage has to be traded off against the slower start.

The current rules also seem to allow for a huge differential in blade lengths – after all Pistorius could legally add up to 9 cm to his racing blades. He might regret not switching to longer blades in the Paralympics now, but as an athlete who has battled so hard to prove that his blades do not give him a mechanical advantage over a non-Paralympic athlete you can see why he stuck with his Olympic-approved ones.

Oscar Pistorius will be humbled by the defeat and rue the missed chances of holding both the world record and a Paralympics Games gold. But as a Swahili saying puts it, “Asiyekubali kushindwa si mshindani” (Whoever refuses to accept defeat is no worthy competitor).

And on Wednesday 5 September, Pistorius bounced back to help the 4 x 100 metre relay team win gold and break the world record in the T42/46 final. Here are some of the reactions on Twitter on their performance:

@kingsleyhead : Great relay run, no excuses, Pistorius both expected and saw the opposition this time round #oscarpistorius

@montgomeryotter : Personally I no longer care what #OscarPistorius does. He is only sporting when he wins. He could learn a lot from losing more often.

@AlUtaHitchcock : @ESPNUK how can you cast the same dark shadow that was casted on you, on a fellow fighter of adversaries#OscarPistorius

@ABiVanWykSep : @Paralympic Go #OscarPistorius we are proud of u in SA#Paralympics

@WARRIORCHAMPION : Congratulations #OscarPistorius and the South African relay team for winning Gold in the 4x100m relay at the London… fb.me/1yYa5ws8T

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

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