ROME (AFP) — South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius sets his sights on an historic appearance at the Beijing Olympics on Friday after winning a landmark appeal over a ban on his artificial legs.
The 21-year-old, who runs on specially-adapted carbon fibre blades after having his legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, saw the ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The 400m runner was barred from all competitions involving able-bodied athletes because of claims that the artificial legs he uses give him an unfair advantage.
"Today, I can pursue my dream of competing in the Olympic Games. If it's not for Beijing, it will be for London in 2012," said the South African, nicknamed 'Bladerunner'.
However he knows that the real battle to record a qualifying time to make the Games in Beijing is only just beginning.
He has a personal best of 46.46secs; the minimum qualifying time for the Olympics is 45.95. Even if he fails to make the time for the individual event, he could still take part in the relay.
"I am going to try and make it to Beijing. I have a few chances ahead of me and I will try to make the most of them. I'm going back to South Africa on Saturday and then, at the end of June, I will come back to Europe."
Pistorius will take part in the Milan meeting on July 2 and then the Rome Golden League event on July 11 before possibly running in Luzern.
"The IAAF was wrong," added the South African who believes the ban was political'.
"Sport brings people together and it doesn't divide or judge. This decision will open new doors for disabled athletes.
"Happily, the CAS considered the question a scientific matter and only looked to determine if my blades gave me an advantage or not. Handicapped or able-bodied, for me there is no difference.
"I'm just a sprinter and it is this that people see me as."
IAAF president Lamine Diack said his organisation accepted the CAS findings.
"The IAAF accepts the decision of CAS and Oscar will be welcomed wherever he competes this summer. He is an inspirational man and we look forward to admiring his achievements in the future."
Despite his disability Pistorius went through school as a keen athlete, taking part in rugby, water polo, tennis and wrestling.
He only took up running competitively in January 2004 after he sustained a knee injury while playing rugby.
Only a few months later, aided by his 'Bladerunner' limbs, Pistorius went on to win Paralympic Gold in the 200 metres at the Athens Games, where he also won bronze in the 100m.
Pistorius, who has an 11-month-old baby, has, thanks to his prosthetics, won Paralympic titles and challenged the times set by top-level able-bodied athletes.
However, a scientific investigation carried out by the Institute of Biomechanics at Cologne University last November claimed that the blades gave him a clear competitive edge over such athletes. Pistorius lodged his appeal with CAS in February.
And CAS's three-man panel decided that the IAAF, which claimed that Pistorius benefited from a 'technical device', did not prove that claim to a sufficient extent.
The CAS statement said: "On the basis of the evidence brought by the experts called by both parties, the Panel was not persuaded that there was sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage in favour of a double amputee using the Cheetah Flex-Foot.
"Furthermore, the CAS Panel has considered that the IAAF did not prove that the biomechanical effects of using this particular prosthetic device gives Oscar Pistorius an advantage over athletes not using the device."
But CAS also stated that their decision in this case would not open up the floodgates for athletes with disabilities.
"The CAS Panel has emphasised that the scope of application of this decision is limited to the eligibility of Oscar Pistorius only and, only, to his use of the specific prosthesis in issue in this appeal.
"It follows that this decision has no application to the eligibility of any other athletes or any other model of prosthetic limb."
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