Posted on Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 at 1:40 pm and is filed under Archive | 0

The cult film Blade Runner is based on a novel by Phillip K Dick, with probably the most magnificent title in the history of pulp fiction, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. That was way too long and too smart for the film’s producers, so they bought the rights to a completely different sci-fi novel named The Bladerunner by Alan E Nourse, and transposed that. It’s a terrifically snappy title, just right for a cult movie, but I’ve never quite worked out what it’s supposed to mean. PretoriusThe film however does follow the book to a large extent, the central conceit being the tracking down and destruction of artificial beings known as replicants. Incidentally, the scenario of AI (Artificial Intelligence) the Stanley Kubrick project, ultimately made by Steven Spielberg after the death of the master treats the same subject.

Which brings me, as you might have guessed to Oscar Pistorius. I’m sorry if I’m a little late on this – his victory at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against his IAAF ban was announced several days ago – but I was laying into corruption in Kenyan athletics at the time.

Now, once upon a time in the world of sport, it was necessary to have a nickname, nom-de-guerre, or whatever. Such as the Manassa Mauler for boxer Jack Dempsey (ask your dad), or the Midnight Express for sprinter Eddie Tolan (ask your granddad). A colleague versed in the traditions of Fleet St and the tabloid press in the UK once tried calling Steve Cram the Jarrow Arrow (after the town where the former world mile record holder was born), but it never stuck. Similarly, I called my documentary film on Saïd Aouita, Arabian Knight, yet none of us ever used it in our articles on him.

Oscar’s nickname is, of course Blade Runner, since his prosthetics (he is a double amputee, since just after his birth) are called blades. The nickname has served him as well as it served the cult film. It has helped publicise his case for integration in the able-bodied athletics world at a time when Political Correctness has become a byword. I may be wrong, but I suspect there is an element of PC in the CAS decision.

Because, such results as I have seen, from the tests conducted in tandem with the IAAF and the Pistorius camp demonstrate adequately that Pistorius runs the second half of his 400 metres races faster than his first half, sometimes much faster. That is in contrast to every other 400 metres runner in history, except perhaps Marc Raquil, the dyed blond Frenchman, who came from about 50 metres back at halfway to take bronze in the World Championships in Paris 2003. But there’s always a joker in the pack, to disprove any theory.

I don’t intend to get into the finer points of the scientific debate, although Dr Ross Tucker’s arguments (google him) look very sound to me. But I’m no scientist, although I have enjoyed telling people in the last decade that I never thought that athletics reporting would make me an expert on bio-chemistry (ie drugs) and court procedure (ditto).

Incidentally, there has been website forum discussion of Pistorius’ possibilities at 800 metres, given his slow-starting. Let’s get this straight, no one wearing blades like Pistorius’ should ever be let near other runners in a race without lanes!

My spies at the IAAF tell me that there is much discontent at the CAS judgement, although IAAF President, Lamine Diack publicly welcomed the decision, and was fulsome in his praise of Pistorius’ initiative and willpower. But, I suspect, with reason, based on last season’s results that they don’t expect Pistorius – should he be selected by South Africa – to get much further than the second round in Beijing. As one of the more perceptive of the website posters noted, his upper body doesn’t even look like that of a world class 400 metres runner. But the IAAF will welcome him in Beijing, because an internal report I’ve seen headlines the fact that the biggest story for athletics last year, with the most lineage and television exposure, was Oscar Pistorius. And he didn’t even go to the World Championships in Osaka.

That’s the near future, but what about the distant future? Given the now seemingly limitless possibilities of organ replacment, stem-cell research, gene therapy, etc, is Oscar Pistorius a precursor of things to come?

Around 25 years ago, the celebrated science fiction writer Isaac Asimov contributed a story to what was probably the best ever running-related magazine, The Runner. It described a scenario in which runners were mutants, bionic individuals, something approaching the replicants of Phillip K Dick’s imagination.

Now many science fiction writers – with a background in real science – have proved to be prescient, far-sighted individuals. With apologies to Pistorius’ evident humanity, and whether we like it or not, maybe he’s giving us a glimpse into the future.

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