POSTED: Thursday November 17th 2011

Pistorius Must Pick Olympics or Paralympics, Says Wheelchair Racing Legend

Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain’s most successful Paralympian, today said that she thinks Oscar Pistorius needs to make a choice between competing at the London Olympics or Paralympics next summer.

Baroness Grey-Thompson at the Ladbrokes lunch organised by the Sports Journalists' Association
Baroness Grey-Thompson at the Ladbrokes lunch organised by the Sports Journalists' Association

“I’ve never wanted the Paralympics to be a B final,” said Grey-Thompson. "While Oscar Pistorius is so far ahead of the rest, then his event really should not be at the Paralympics.”

Pistorius, a below-the-knee amputee known around the world as “the Blade Runner”, made headlines in August when the 24-year-old qualified for and raced at the able-bodied athletics World Championships in Korea, using his carbon fibre prosthetics, winning a 4x400 metres relay silver medal for South Africa.

It marked the culmination of a three-year legal and scientific battle for Pistorius, the winner of four Paralympic gold medals, who had to fight for the right to race able bodied runners using his “blades”.
But Baroness Grey-Thompson believes that Pistorius’s best distance, the 400 metres, should be taken out of the programme for the Paralympics if the South African continues to be able to compete in able bodied races.

“It is a really complex issue, and it brings out really strong views in people, many who say they agree with me, others who say I don’t know what I am talking about,” said the winner of 16 Paralympic medals, 11 of them gold, in a wheelchair racing career that stretched from 1988 to 2004.

Grey-Thompson was speaking to a media audience of 30 in central London at a Ladbrokes Lunch organised by the Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain.

Lady Grey-Thompson has worked as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords for the last 18 months, and she is also on the board of LOCOG, London’s Olympic and Paralympic organisers.

“I was really supportive of Oscar running at the Worlds,” she said, “because for the Paralympic movement, there’s a lot of positives.
“But when it comes to his running at both the Olympics and Paralympics, it gets very complicated.”

Grey-Thompson explained that Paralympians such as Natalie du Toit, the South African swimmer, and Sarah Storey, the British cyclist, who hope to compete at both Games in 2012 have better cases because they have different events at the Olympics from those at the Paralympics.
“That’s not the case with Oscar. At 100 and 200 metres, he still has a race on his hands at the Paralympics. But if he's racing 400 at the Olympics, then I think it should be taken out of the Paralympics.
“He’s a really nice guy who trains very hard, and if I was Oscar, I’d do exactly what he’s doing,” she said, comparing the size of the crowds, television audience and sponsorship potential between the Daegu World Championships in August and the Paralympic athletics worlds that were staged in New Zealand last January. “Would you rather compete in front of three men and a dog or at Daegu?” she asked.
Grey-Thompson is also on the board at UK Athletics, who last week won the right to host the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London’s Olympic Stadium. She said that she believed that event could be used “to encourage much more integration at the Worlds”, where in the past, three or four demonstration disability sports events have been staged.

The Ladbrokes Lunch audience were told by Grey-Thompson that she is confident that London 2012 will deliver “a wider legacy for disabled people”, with better public transport, school provision and a better acceptance within society.

However, she said she did not want to see a merging between the Olympics and Paralympics. “I think we benefit from being staged after the Olympics,” Grey-Thompson said, citing her own experience of having competed in demonstration races at the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics before racing at the Paralympics.
“I think the Paralympics can be strong enough in its own right. It doesn’t have to be a second-class Olympics.”

She highlighted the 1.4 million spectator tickets already sold for the London Paralympics. “Previous Games have given away that many tickets,” she said, “but none before have ever sold that many.”
Despite her positions in the Lords, LOCOG and UKA, “I didn’t get all the tickets I applied for. So I’ll be going into the second ballot.”

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Keywords · olympics · paralympics · paralympic sport · tanni grey-thompson · pistorius · sports journalists association · sports media · ladbrokes

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