It's not always the taking part that counts
By being so ungracious in defeat, Oscar Pistorius reminded us that winning actually matters in the Paralympic Games, writes MALACHY CLERKINAMAZING WHAT you happen upon when you turn the wrong corner and walk through the wrong door. Last Friday, a Japanese cameraman and I got momentarily lost in the warren of corridors under the Velodrome. Whether he was following me or the other way around wasn’t wholly clear to either of us and just when we were about to give it all up as a bad job, there came around the corner a whirlwind of banging and clattering and sobbing and cursing. All of a sudden, a British cyclist was down on his knees banging the ground and bawling his eyes out.
I didn’t recognise him at the time but the cyclist was Jody Cundy and what was taking place before us was a continuation of the meltdown he’d just had in front of the TV cameras and microphones a few minutes beforehand. It was by a fair distance the most distressed I’d ever seen a sportsperson who was still dressed for competition.
Even though he later apologised, Cundy’s knicker fit on Friday earned him the title of worst loser of the games. At least it did until Oscar Pistorius wrested it from him on Sunday night. In using his post-race interview to complain about the length of Alan Oliveira’s blades, Pistorius torpedoed a huge amount of the goodwill that comes his way automatically as a result of being the world’s most famous Paralympian. He forgot one of the golden rules of big-time sport – post-match quotes are not the place to be making nuanced, technical arguments.
Like Cundy, Pistorius apologised. Unlike Cundy, he didn’t admit to being wrong – just inappropriate in his timing. The ins and outs of the point he was making were thrashed out by everyone here yesterday, making him easily the biggest story of the games. The excellent Sportsscientists.comwebsite ran a piece that appeared to demolish his argument about not being able to compete with Oliveira’s stride length, pointing out that Pistorius actually took fewer steps in the race than his Brazilian opponent. Fewer steps over the same distance means a longer stride length, so far from not being able to compete, it looks like it was actually the other way around.
Pistorius wasn’t helped by the fact he ran slower in his final than he had in his heat. If he’d improved on the world record he ran in his heat – or even repeated it – he would have won the final. It’s hard to stand up the argument that you can’t compete against an opponent’s technological assistance when you’ve already done so the day before.
So Oscar has a bit of a problem now. He came here as the biggest draw of the games, an inspiration to millions and, crucially, a man who nobody had a bad word to say about. Everybody who disagreed with allowing him to run in the Olympics seemed to do so with a heavy heart and always prefaced their argument with a tribute to what an all-round good egg he is.
By choosing the worst possible time to come across as a cry-baby, he’s made people think again about supporting him.
Because make no mistake, this will be used against him when it comes to future fights. Pistorius is going to have one mighty thin line to walk when he holds forth again about the place of blades in able-bodied races. On the one hand, he has argued he gets no special advantage from them over able-bodied 400m runners. Yet here he is on the other, claiming that Oliveira’s blades provide a stride length that he can’t compete against. He might very well be entitled to hold both views but he’ll have a job getting people to listen long enough to allow him explain them.
For all that, there’s no doubt Cundy and Pistorius going postal are two of the best things to have happened to the Games. Sport isn’t sport unless someone is pissed off at losing. That’s the whole point of it. You’re supposed to put your life on hold, you’re supposed to rage at the gods if it doesn’t work out.
The Paralympics provide such a festival of positivity and congrats all round that it’s easy for the outside world to get the wrong impression and decide that winning and losing is all very ho-hum around here. No harm in letting loose the odd reminder that it’s anything but.
IPC rules governing the length of prosthetics are determined by a complicated formula that involves measuring from the chest to the amputated limb and the arm span.
This is converted into a height prediction and a maximal height is used to asses the length of prosthetics