April 14, 2006

Leg Up

I'm not disabled. I just don't have any legs. — Oscar Pistorius, 2005

It's been more than a year since I wrote about South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius. He's in the news again this week, as he prepares to defend his 100 m and 200 m titles at the Visa Paralympic World Cup in May.

Pistorius, you will recall, is missing both of his legs below the knee. His personal best over 400 m, which is also a world record, is 47.34 seconds. That time ranked him fifth in South Africa in 2005 — not fifth among disabled runners, but fifth among all runners.

His goal is to compete in the 2008 Olympics. He figures he needs two seconds of improvement, or maybe a little more, to qualify for the South African team. Now, two seconds is a long way in 400 m; but there are two things working in his favour here. The first is that he is only 19 years old, and the second is that he has only been running since January 2004. It will be interesting to watch his progress over the next few years. It will also be interesting to watch how the IAAF handles his case.

I love photo finishes — there is something that appeals to me about the weird dimensionality of the photos. Because I find them fascinating, and to demonstrate Pistorius' current level, I constructed a composite photo depicting all of the finishers in the men's 400 m at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

Men's 400m, 2005 World Championships (click to enlarge)

The composite includes all seven heats, three semifinals, and the final, although a few of the slowest finishers were not included in the photos. The guy in the red box is Pistorius — based on his personal best 47.34.

(Incidentally, the guy way over there on the right is Jeremy Wariner. He just turned 22.)

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