London Spy

What is Pistorius complaining about? And is he right?

London Spy

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Oscar Pistorius (left) not happy with his silver as Alan Oliveira shows off gold

Oscar Pistorius shocked many Paralympics fans on Sunday when he complained that gold-winning 200m rival Alan Oliveira's artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage.

Pistorius, who made history this summer when he became the first Paralympian to run in the Olympic Games, lost out on gold to Oliveira by 0.07 seconds, but blamed his defeat on his rivals' legs.

"We're not running in a fair race," he said. "I can't compete with Alan's stride length."

Pistorius has now apologised, and the IPC have confirmed that he will not face any disciplinary action despite only saying sorry for the timing of his comments, rather than the substance of his complaint.

But why exactly does Pistorius believe that his Brazilian rival had an unfair advantage? Our Q&A explains why.

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What is Pistorius's complaint?

The South African believes that Oliveira's blades are too long, giving him an unfair advantage by letting him take longer strides. This was mainly sparked by Oliveira's decision to change to longer blades three weeks before the Olympics, something which helped him shave a second off his personal best.

Is it true? Was Oliveira breaking any rules?

No. The International Paralympic Committee has confirmed that Oliveira's blades were well within the regulations.

What are those regulations?

The length of runners' blades are subject to calculations based on the runners' predicted height if they had legs.

That predicted height is based on the average of two measurements, one based on arm span and the other based on an elbow-to-fingertip measurement. This predicted height is then increased by 2.5 per cent (to allow for the 'on toes' running style used by sprinters) to give each runner a maximum height in their blades.

So what is Oliveira's height in his blades?

Oliveira is allowed to run in blades that make him up to 184.5cm. His actual height on his blades is well within that, at 181cm, while on his 'everyday blades' he stands just below that at 177cm.

And Pistorius?

The South African star is a few centimetres taller, and is therefore is allowed blades that would make him 193.5cm.  In his running blades he actually stands at 184cm, the same length he is on his everyday blades.

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Pistorius's blades (left) and Oliveira's (right). Note the different design that accentuates different length.

So Oliveira's blades are longer? Wouldn't that make it easier for him?

Yes, but well within the rules, but blade length is not a black-and-white issue. Scientists have discovered that shorter blades give athletes an advantage in the start but are a disadvantage in the closing stages of a race. "Oliveira is basically banking on having a stronger finish, and that's exactly what happened. Both of them will know this," prosthetics expert Bruce Dyer of Bournemouth University told Channel 4. "You can't have a strong start and finish. It's one or the other, and it looks like Pistorius backed the wrong horse."

What about his argument that the stride length makes the difference?

Oliveira actually took 98 strides to win the 200m, while Pistorius had 92 strides.

In addition Sheffield Hallam University's Steve Haake told that Reuters that Pistorius needs to speak more carefully, considering his own long battle to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes. "If he is saying 'if you lengthen your legs you are at an advantage' he blows his argument out of the water that he gains no advantage over able-bodied athletes by using prosthetics. He can't have it both ways."

So is it all sour grapes, then?

It seems so. After all, Pistorius ran 21.30 seconds in the heats, a time which would have seen him win gold comfortably, since Oliveira's winning run was 21.46. Pistorius was unable to reproduce his earlier form in the final.

As British Paralympian Arthur Williams wrote in The Guardian, "I wasn't completely surprised that Oscar lost. In the build-up to these Paralympics the T44 100m and 200m have become the most competitive they have ever been."

Will Pistorius change to longer blades?

Theoretically he can, but it would mean using different blades in able-bodied competition compared to Paralympic competition since he is already at the maximum the IAAF will allow. His current blades (which are basically the same as he has worn since 1997) and his insistence that his success is down to dedication and training are an integral part of his image. That image is intrinsically linked to his huge financial success - he is a millionaire several times over - and therefore it is highly unlikely that he would want to change.

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