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Runner Pistorius Under Fire For Post-Race Comments

Sep 3, 2012
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

There's a dispute over prosthetic blades at the Paralympic Games in London. So-called bladerunner Oscar Pistorius of South Africa seemed to be cruising to an easy win in the men's 200-meter final when in the final stretch he was overtaken by another double amputee, Brazilian Alan Oliveira. Right after the race, Pistorius complained that his rival's blades were too high, giving him an unfair advantage. He called the race ridiculous. The BBC's Emma Tracey is covering the Paralympics. She joins me now to talk about the controversy. And, Emma, the Brazilian runner won by just point-07 seconds. You were there at the stadium. What was the reaction from the crowd?

EMMA TRACEY: The reaction was pretty amazing, because, I mean, Oscar Pistorius is probably the most famous paralympian in the world, and as he ran, the cheer was uproarious. And then when he lost, there was a palpable sense of shock.

BLOCK: Well, the Brazilian runner says he is using a new, taller carbon fiber blade, but it is within regulation. Walk us through how the Paralympic committee judges what is acceptable. It is a very detailed formula they calculate with.

TRACEY: It's an exceptionally detailed formula. Basically, what they do is they measure an athlete's forearm length and what they call their demi-stand, which is from just below their throat to the end of their finger. They get the mean of those two and then they add 3.5 percent because of the fact that runners who run on blades run on their toes rather than their heels, so that's an extra little bit onto that. All of the athletes were apparently within that height and actually quite a lot below it.

BLOCK: Now, today Oscar Pistorius apologized for the timing of his remarks but not for the content. And in fact, he has said that he had raised this issue before with the International Paralympic Committee. They are going to meet with him on this. What do you expect to happen?

TRACEY: Well, Oscar's a very, very high-profile athlete, so they can't ignore what he has said. And they have said that they will look into whether everyone should run on the same height of blades. So, I don't think anything major will happen until after these Games, because, you know, all the athletes involved, particularly Oscar's got 400-meter race in a couple of days and he's going to need to put this aside for now and focus on that.

BLOCK: You know, it's interesting, Oscar Pistorius is claiming that because his rival had these taller blades he had a longer stride, but actually I read an analysis in the Guardian somebody counted the steps and said Pistorius is wrong, that Pistorius actually took fewer steps in the race. Oliveira won because his stride rate was better, not its length.

TRACEY: It's so complicated and it's only going to get more so as the technology gets better and better for these blades. Yes, Oscar took less steps. And because of their different lengths of blades, apparently Oscar would have had a better start but Oliveira would have had a better finish, according to an expert.

BLOCK: There does seem to be an irony here, Emma, because Oscar Pistorius famously fought to compete in the Olympics, and he won. He had to prove that his blades didn't give him an unfair advantage. In a way, he's now using a similar argument against his competitor.

TRACEY: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, he runs on the blades that he has managed to get by the Olympic committee. And actually in 2004, when he broke his first world record, and Marlon Shirley from the U.S. complained that Oscar Pistorius's blades were too big back then. So, it's going to keep getting more and more complicated, which is kind of the beauty of it.

BLOCK: Well, Emma, thanks so much for talking with us.

TRACEY: No problem.

BLOCK: That's the BBC's Emma Tracey covering the Paralympic Games in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.