crashing the party

The South African Sports Confederation & Olympic Committee named Paralympian Oscar Pistorius to the South African Olympic Team today in a surprise decision. Before today, the SASCOC had stated that in order to represent South Africa in the Olympics, athletes would have to run the “A” qualifying time of 45.30 seconds 3 times in the year leading up to the London Olympics.

Pistorius had met that standard twice before, but failed to run it a third time within the required time period. Though he placed 2nd in the African Championships last Friday, he missed the “A” time, and he later issued a statement saying, in part:

My race today felt good and I’m pleased to have won the silver medal at the African Championships. I am obviously disappointed that my time was just outside of the Olympic qualification time by two tenths of a second.  … I had a great early start to the season, setting the Olympic qualification time and I am hoping that there is still the opportunity for me to be selected to run for South Africa in the 4x400m relay.

But today, the SASCOC reversed course, naming Pistorius not only to the 4x400M relay team, but also granting him eligibility to run in the 400M individual event in London.

Early articles on this breaking news have focused mostly on the historic significance of an amputee participating in the able-bodied Olympics. SASCOC President, Gideon Sam, has apparently been asked, however, whether South Africa selected Pistorius in part because of the publicity it will generate. Sam has responded by saying, “As I have said many times before, we are not taking passengers to London. Everyone has met selection criteria and are genuine Olympic games material, either now or for 2016.”

It’s a historic day for disabled athletes. It will be interesting in the coming days and weeks to see how much of the discussion around Oscar shifts from celebrating his achievement to the more complicated and divisive issue of whether his carbon-fiber Cheetah running feet give him an advantage versus able-bodied competitors, a topic we have more generally discussed in these e-pages previously, here.

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