by Renée Kolar
Oscar Pistorius made history Saturday by becoming the first double-amputee to compete in the able-bodied Olympics. Pistorius is a South African sprinter who was born without a fibula in either leg, and had both legs amputated when he was only 11 months old. To participate in sporting activities, Pistorius uses two high-performance carbon-fiber prosthetics, known as the Cheetah Flex-Foot.
Controversy regarding Mr. Pistorius’ use of these prosthetics arose in 2007, after he won second place in an international competition for abled-bodied athletes. Shortly after that race, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decided to introduce an amendment to the IAAF competition Rule 144.2. The amendment banned the “(e) 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.” After the adoption of this amendment, Mr. Pistorius’ track performances were monitored and tests were conducted to determine whether the Cheetah Flex-Foot gave Mr. Pistorius advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs. Based on the results of those studies, on 14 January 2008, the IAAF ruled him ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Mr. Pistorius appealed to the Court of Arbitration (CAS) for Sport in February 2008. The CAS Panel considered the following issues: (1) Was the process leading to the IAAF Decision procedurally unsound? (2) Was the IAAF Decision unlawfully discriminatory? (3) Was the IAAF Decision wrong in determining that Mr. Pistorius’ use of the Cheetah Flex-Foot device contravenes IAAF Rule 144.2(e)? Ultimately, the Panel held overall there was no evidence that Pistorius had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes and revoked the IAAF decision. (Read the CAS opinion here)
Pistorius was therefore eligible to compete in the Beijing 2008 Olympics, but failed to qualify for the South African team. This time around, however, Pistorius qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics in March and Saturday achieved his dream of making it to the semifinals in the 400-meter sprint. He finished Saturday’s race second in his heat and 16th overall out of 47 runners with a time of 45.44 seconds.
Renée Kolar is a summer intern at Karl Bayer, Dispute Resolution Expert . Renée is a J.D. candidate at The University of Texas School of Law and holds an undergraduate degree in Applied Foreign Languages from l’Université Stendhal in Grenoble, France.