Michael Johnson may not agree with the decision to allow an amputee runner to compete in able-bodied events, but the world record holder hasn't let that stop him from becoming a big fan of Oscar Pistorius.
During an event this week in the double-amputee's native South Africa, Johnson greeted Pistorius warmly and spoke of his admiration for all the runner has accomplished in his career.
Pistorius was born with a congenital absence of his fibulas and had both his legs amputated when he was 11 months old. Using two prosthetic limbs, he became the preeminent 400-meter runner in the Paralympics, running times that could qualify him to run in regular meets. After years of legal battles, Pistorius was granted the right to compete in those able-bodied events in 2008. Pistorius qualified for the semifinals in the 400 during last year's world championships in Daegu, South Korea, his first major international meet.
Johnson still holds the record in that event. Though he's unsure of how much Pistorius' blades help him, he recognizes the strength of the runner.
"Because the decision has been made and I know Oscar -- and I consider Oscar a friend -- I'm very supportive of him and I want to see him do the best he can possibly do," Johnson told the Associated Press.
"I think, and Oscar and I have discussed this, that I would not have made the decision to allow Paralympic athletes to compete with able-bodied athletes because when you're using prosthetics you just can't know how much, or if, there is any advantage that an athlete may gain," he said.
The endorsement from Johnson is no small matter. His 43.18 from the 1996 Olympics is still in the record books and is remembered as one of the greatest races in track and field history.
Pistorius will need to run under a 45.30 to qualify for next summer's Olympics. His personal best is a 45.07, making it likely that the blade runner will be on the track in London. A medal is a longshot, but that's besides the point. Getting there is the achievement. And having respect from one of the greatest runners in history isn't bad either.
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