But Pistorius has faced resistance from track-and-field officials who say that his high-tech prosthetic limbs may give him an unfair advantage over sprinters using their natural legs. Before Pistorius can realize his Olympic dream, experts will have to determine whether his prosthetics make him "too-abled."
Due to severe deformities in both legs and feet, Pistorius's legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. Having worn prosthetics since infancy, Pistorius did not have to adjust to artificial legs after he began competing. He sprints on a pair of "Cheetahs"J-shaped blades made of carbon fiber.
"I don't see myself as disabled," says Pistorius, a former rugby and water-polo player. "There's nothing I can't do that able-bodied athletes can do."
In July, Pistorius competed in the 400 meters against several Olympic medalists at a meet in Sheffield, England. The winner, Angelo Taylor of the U.S., finished in 45.25 seconds. Pistorius finished in 47.65 secondswell short of his personal best of 46.56and was later disqualified for running out of his lane. Speaking of his competition, Pistorius says, "I have a long, long way to go before I get to their level."
'The Purity of Sport'
The fact that Pistorius is blurring the lines between "abled" and disabled raises questions: What should an athlete look like? Should limits be placed on technology? Would it change the nature of sports if athletes using artificial limbs could outperform top athletes using their natural limbs?
For the past six months, the International Association of Athletics Federations (I.A.A.F.)the world governing body of track and fieldhas been trying to decide whether Pistorius should be allowed to compete against able-bodied runners. In March, the association passed a rule barring any runner using artificial aids, disqualifying Pistorius from events that it sanctions. "With all due respect, we cannot accept something that provides advantages," said an I.A.A.F. official. "It affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back."
In June, officials reversed their stance on Pistorius, allowing him to competefor now. He is to undergo a fullbiometrical analysis this month to ensure that his prosthetics do not give him an unfair advantage.
Then, to automatically qualify for the Olympics, he will have to run the 400 meters in 45.55 before the July 2008 deadline. (Because of his second-place finish at the South African national championships in March, Pistorius could also be eligible if South Africa qualifies for the 4x400 relay.)
The I.A.A.F. has been concerned that Pistorius's prosthetic limbs make him taller and unfairly lengthen his stride. Officials also fear that Pistorius could topple over, obstructing others or injuring himself and other competitors.
Among ethicists, Pistorius's success has spurred talk of "trans-humans" and "cyborgs." A sobering question was posed recently on the Web site of the Connecticut-based Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: In the future, will some athletes seek an advantage by having healthy limbs replaced by artificial ones?
Pistorius says there are actually many disadvantages to sprinting on carbon-fiber legs. For example, he says his knees do not flex as readily, limiting his power output.
"We just want to work with the I.A.A.F. and get this thing behind us," he says. "It has created a lot of negativity. There's absolutely no reason why they should keep me from running."
Angela Schneider, a sports ethicist at the University of Ontario and a 1984 Olympic silver medalist in rowing, says the I.A.A.F. must objectively define when prosthetics "go from therapy to enhancement." The danger of acting hastily, she says, is that "you deny a guy's struggle against all oddsone of the fundamental principles of the Olympics."