16 May 2008

Paralympians in the News: Josh George, Natalie du Toit, and Oscar Pistorius


The NY Times has a new story up about a young American athlete going to his second Paralympic Games next year, Josh George. I enjoyed it. He talked about his frustration about not being taken seriously as an athlete due to his disability.

“You tell them, ‘I’m a wheelchair racer,’ and they’ll say, ‘Good for you!’ like, ‘Good for you, you’re getting out of the house and doing something,’ ” said George, who graduated with honors from the University of Illinois last year and still trains primarily in Champaign. “It’s not, ‘How’d you do at the last race?’ You don’t get taken as a serious athlete a lot of the time. People don’t quite understand exactly what goes into it.”

Then the article really does take a look at everything that goes into Josh's training. Starting with his childhood injury, then how he was drawn into sports, and finally his elite-level training. Plus there are some videos of his racing, for the techie/jock in you that wants all the nitpicky details of his racing chair and technique. A+ profile, NY Times!



AND from msnbc, the 'Court for Arbitration in Sport' decided that South African double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius was eligible to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. Previously, another sport organization had ruled that Pistorius was NOT eligible to compete for a spot on the Olympic team because his prosthetics gave him too much advantage over other runners. Earlier tests indicated that the way his prosthetics worked made them superior to regular feet. New tests done by MIT biomechanics researcher Hugh Herr (a fellow double-amputee athlete!) found that the special Cheetah blade prosthetics were NOT superior to regular feet.

The issue of Pistorius' eligibility to compete as an Olympian rather than a Paralympian is a very sticky one. Both sides of the debate are compelling. And Pistorius himself is in a bit of Catch-22: if his prosthetics give him an advantage, he isn't eligible to race in the Olympics; if his prosthetics leave him at a disadvantage, he won't be competitive with other Olympic sprinters. At least now he will get his chance. I wanted to include this great quote from Pistorius himself from the article.

“When I found out, I cried. It is a battle that has been going on for far too long. It’s a great day for sport. I think this day is going to go down in history for the equality of disabled people.”

I would be remiss if I didn't include Natalie du Toit, the first amputee to compete in a summer Olympics! (ETA: I read that she was the first but then I did some more research, and there have been a handful of amputee athletes who have competed in the Olympics! New post to come on that topic. She will be the first amputee swimmer!) du Toit, another South African, just qualified for 10 km open water race (this event is new, which would explain why I've never heard of it). She will be competing in that event and then competing in numerous swim events in the Paralympics two weeks later.
Her story is very impressive. A competitive swimmer, she failed to qualify for the 2000 Olympics. In 2001, she lost her leg in a traffic accident. She continued to train but did not qualify for the 2004 Olympics. In the Spring of 2008, she finally qualified! du Toit does not use any prosthetic to race. And, she's only 24. I look forward to seeing what she can do in Beijing this summer!

Images: Top: Josh George finishing the 2004 Chicago Marathon. Dressed in blue with a blue helmet, he is bent over his racing wheelchair steering it over the finish line. Middle: A man in a track uniform and sunglasses has both feet off the ground as he sprints. His feet are black carbon-fiber J-shaped blades. Bottom: A very muscular woman in a black racing swim suit is poised on a starting block, ready to dive into the pool. She is standing on her right foot as she has a left above-knee amputation.

5 comments:

Kathryn said...

I like your coverage of these athletes!!! Great blog - glad you are writing it. I'll be back!

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