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‘Blade Runner’ keeps hope alive

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South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, a Paralympic champion sprinter, is appealing his ban from this summer's Beijing Olympics.

South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, a Paralympic champion sprinter, is appealing his ban from this summer’s Beijing Olympics.

Andreas Solaro, Getty Images

U.S. Paralympians don't want to be told they can't do anything nor that they don't belong.

And they're watching closely and silently cheering on a South African peer, double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who is creating international headlines in seeking to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympic sprint events on his pair of carbon-fiber blades — called "cheetah legs" — attached below his knees.

Nicknamed "Blade Runner" and self-proclaimed as "the fastest thing on no legs," Pistorius earlier this month won a chance to appeal to the International Association of Athletics Federation ban last year against "technical aids" and the IAAF's ruling in January that Pistorius couldn't compete.

The appeal will be later this week before the Court of Arbitration for Sport for Pistorius, who holds the Paralympic records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters and whose time of 10.91 seconds in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Paralympics would have been good for gold in the women's Olympic event.

"Whether you're missing one leg or two legs, it takes a lot more physical energy to move that prosthetic," said U.S. Paralympian Josh Olson at the recent 2008 U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit.

Olson wears a prosthetic, having lost all of his right leg nearly five years ago in Iraq when his Army squad was ambushed and hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The 28-year-old Purple Heart recipient spent nearly a year and a half at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before assignment to the Army's Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, Ga., where he currently serves as an instructor.

Two years ago, he became the first Paralympic athlete nominated to the Army's World Class Athlete Program.

"Yeah, you can say the elasticity of it or what not gives you an advantage," Olson continued on the use of prosthetics, "but you still have to use the portions of the body you have left to make it work."

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Long of Baltimore also empathizes with Pistorius' ordeal. Born in Russia without fibulas, ankles, heels and other feet bones, she was adopted at 13 months and had both legs amputated below the knees at 18 months.

Learning to swim in her grandparents' pool because her parents worried her gymnastics involvement might damage her knees, Long made the Athens-bound U.S. Paralympic team at age 12 and picked up three gold medals. In all, she has amassed up to 67 U.S., Pan-American, Paralympic and world records and a bevy of such medals.

"I have a pair of running (prosthetic) legs — they do help me with balance," said Long. "But I don't think they give you an advantage — it's the person doing the running."

Olson is adamant in his support of Pistorius. "Absolutely, because he has to overcome just as much as anybody else does, if not more."

He's hoping to follow the same path and qualify not in Paralympic shooting but Olympic shooting events at the 2012 London Games.

"As far as when I wear my prosthetic when I shoot, it helps me get a good solid position for shooting and makes me more consistent," he said. "And that's what shooting is all about — being consistent and doing the same thing right every time.

"Eventually, someone could come up to me and say, 'Well, he's using something to hold himself up, a prop if you will,'" Olson continued. "But, for the lack of a better term, try to put yourself in my shoes or any amputee's shoes — they have to overcome a lot just to get out of bed in the morning and put their leg or legs on. Definitely, people should take that into consideration."

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com