Sporting world shocked by charges against inspirational athlete Oscar Pistorius

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News that South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius had been charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on Thursday came as a shock to nearly everyone who had heard the runner’s inspirational story of his struggle to become the first double-amputee ever to compete at the Olympics.

Pistorius, now 26, was born without fibulas and and had to have his legs amputated below the knee at only eleven months old. That didn’t stop him from competing in rugby, tennis, and water polo while growing up in Pretoria, before being introduced to running in after suffering a knee injury.

Fueled by his competitive spirit and riding on his new racing “blades,” fitted for him by prosthetist Francois Vanderwatt, Pistorius went on to win gold in the 200m at the Paralympic Games in Athens only months after starting to race, and then finished sixth in at the 400m able-bodied national championships the next year.

He won the 100m, 200m, and 400m Paralympic world championships in 2006, and then set his sights on qualifying for the Beijing Olympics. One problem: Pistorius had a number of detractors, including world record holder Michael Johnson, who suggested that his disability was actually an advantage, since the runner raced on specially engineer carbon fiber limbs.

“I know Oscar well, and he knows my position; my position is that because we don’t know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics that he wears it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors…

“Oscar sees no limits; he has no fear when competing against able-bodied athletes. So it is hard for people to understand and to accept when you start to talk about whether or not he may have the advantage.”

The IAAF, track’s governing body, agreed, and banned any device using springs, wheels, or any other device that might provide an advantage in 2007, marking Pistorius ineligible for the 2008 Games.

Pistorius eventually won a reprieve with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in April 2008, which, after a two-day hearing in Switzerland, determined that Pistorius held no advantage and was allowed to compete against able-bodied runners.

“Oscar’s done so much for Paralympic sport and I’m grateful for all the eyes he has opened to what Paralympic sport can be,” British Paralympic gold medal sprinter Johnnie Peacock, who started racing after seeing Pistorius on TV, told the London Telegraph.

The “Blade Runner,” as he’s now known, didn’t qualify for the Olympics in 2008, but was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people after winning the right to compete, and signed sponsorship deals with Oakley, Nike, Thierry Mugler, and running blade manufacturer Ossur, in all totaling nearly $5 million.

Now able to compete against the world’s best, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to win an able-bodied world championship medal when his 4×400 relay team took silver in Daegu in 2011. And despite failing to run the necessary Olympic “A” standard qualification time twice, the South African Olympic Committee announced last July 4 that Pistorius had been selected for the Olympic team for the 400m and 4x400m relay.

Two months later, on August 4, 2012, Pistorius became the first double-amputee runner to compete at the Olympics. And better than that, he took second in his preliminary heat with a time of 45.44 seconds, a season best that put him into the semifinals.

“It just felt really magical,” Pistorius said. “If I could predict what it would feel like or imagine beyond my wildest dreams, this was probably 10 times that. To step out in front of a crowd this massive, it’s a mind-blowing experience,” he added. “I’ve had support in the last couple of days like I have never felt before.”

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Pistorius was knocked out in the semis, finishing eighth in the race. After the event, the South African symbolically exchanged racing bibs with Kirani James of Grenada, who eventually went on to win the gold.

“This whole experience was amazing… to step out here in an Olympic final is more than I could have ever hoped for,” Pistorius said after that race. “That opportunity to come here once again and finish today and not yesterday is a dream come true.”

The inspirational athlete was asked to carry the South African flag at the Olympics Closing Ceremony as a tribute to his struggle and success, and went on to earn two more Paralympic golds a month later.

Lance Armstrong lawyers want Greg LeMond, Betsy Andreu excluded from trial

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong’s $100 million fraud trial is months away, yet his fight with the government and former teammate-turned-rival Floyd Landis is heating up.

Armstrong, who was stripped of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal and seven Tour de France titles for doping, wants to bar potential testimony and evidence from some of his most dogged critics.

That includes the blistering U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that led to his downfall and former Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, who now stands as the only American to have officially won the race.

Landis, who tipped investigators to Armstrong’s cheating back in 2010, wants to prevent Armstrong from telling jurors about his own doping history and motivation to file a lawsuit that could put more than $20 million in his pocket.

Trial is scheduled for November in federal court in Washington, and lawyers for both sides recently filed a series of motions asking U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper to exclude some key evidence.

Landis initially sued Armstrong in 2010, alleging Armstrong violated the cycling team’s U.S. Postal Service contract by using performance-enhancing drugs. The government joined in 2013 after Armstrong admitted using steroids and other banned performance-enhancing drugs and techniques to win the Tour de France seven times and become the world’s dominant bicycle racer from 1999-2005. The government wants to recover more than $30 million the Postal Service paid to sponsor Armstrong’s team and will seek triple damages.

Armstrong’s cheating was exposed and detailed in a 2012 U.S Anti-Doping Agency report that included sworn testimony from several of his former teammates. He was stripped of his Tour de France victories, banned from competition and has paid an estimated $20 million to settle various lawsuits.

Armstrong’s lawyers now call the USADA report “inadmissible hearsay” for the federal case and say it was written to satisfy the motives of an agency out to get him. They notably object to the report’s summation that Armstrong led the most “most sophisticated” doping program in sports history.

Even if the report is blocked, Armstrong has admitted and provided sworn testimony about his performance-enhancing drug use.

Armstrong also wants to block testimony from Betsy Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu. She was one of the first to provide sworn testimony about Armstrong’s drug use in a 2005 lawsuit, and has been a prominent critic of Armstrong’s past efforts to intimidate anyone who raised the specter of his doping. Armstrong’s lawyers call her a publicity seeker who blames Armstrong for her husband not having a better career.

Betsy Andreu said she hasn’t done TV interviews about Armstrong since 2013 and turned down a book deal.

“It’s been well established that Lance will stop at nothing to discredit my husband and me because of our uncompromising integrity,” she told The Associated Press. “Lance tried to shut me up by bullying me to the point of breaking me. He didn’t succeed then, he will not succeed now.”

LeMond’s presence at trial could be explosive as he has clashed fiercely with both Armstrong and Landis in the past. Armstrong’s lawyers want him out.

“While LeMond is well-versed in the prevalence of doping throughout the sport during the relevant time period (1997-2004) and still owns the record for the fastest time trial in Tour de France history, he has no personal knowledge regarding Armstrong, the USPS sponsorship agreement, or invoices submitted for sponsorship payments,” Armstrong’s lawyers wrote.

Kathy LeMond told the AP her husband has intimate knowledge of Postal Service contracting in the mid-1990s and the expectation by the government that teams were expected to be clean. LeMond was retired when the same group that organized Armstrong’s team first approached him about having a role in a Postal Service team, then froze him out, she said.

“They asked him to use his name to try to get a U.S.-based team,” Kathy LeMond said. “We have those documents … We gave it all to the Justice Department.”

The government wants the judge to block some of Armstrong’s evidence as well, including two reports commissioned by the Postal Service during the team sponsorship. Those reports claim the sponsorship was worth more than $100 million in global exposure, leading Armstrong to claim he owes the government nothing. The government argues those reports should be disallowed as “hearsay” that lack expert testimony to support them.

The government also wants to prevent him from attacking Landis’ character and motivation. Landis’ 2006 Tour de France victory was stripped after he was caught using synthetic testosterone. He initially claimed innocence and asked the public to finance his defense. Landis was later prosecuted for fraud and paid back more than $475,000.

As the whistleblower against Armstrong, Landis stands to pocket up to 25 percent of any damages awarded.

“Armstrong should not be allowed to deflect the jury’s attention from his own misdeeds by putting Landis on trial and introducing evidence to cast him in a bad light,” the government wrote.

Dallas attorney Matthew Orwig, a former federal prosecutor, said whistleblowers are “rarely totally pure” and attacking their character is a common legal tactic.

Even though Landis filed the initial lawsuit, the government has said it doesn’t plan to call him as a witness. The government should consider presenting Landis’ background instead of letting Armstrong do it, Orwig said.

“Let them hear it from you instead of the other side,” Orwig said. “It seems to inevitably come out.”

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South Korea president calls for North Korea at PyeongChang Olympics

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea President Moon Jae-in said Saturday he hopes to see North Korean athletes at next year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea to ease tensions over the North’s nuclear program.

Moon made the comments during the opening ceremony of the world taekwondo championships in the South Korean town of Muju, where a North Korean delegation led by International Olympic Committee member Chang Ung was also present.

The championships, which will feature a performance by the North Korean taekwondo demonstration team, mark the first sports exchange between the Koreas since the liberal Moon took office in May.

Moon has expressed a desire to use the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympics to reach out to North Korea, with relations between the two at their lowest point in decades. During his stay in the South, Chang is expected to meet South Korean officials to discuss cooperation at the Winter Olympics.

“If North Korean athletes participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, I think it would greatly contribute in realizing Olympic values, which are about bringing humanity together and promoting world peace,” said Moon.

He recalled key moments in sports diplomacy between the Koreas, including when they sent unified teams to the world table tennis and youth soccer championships in 1991, and their athletes marching together during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Participation in Pyeongchang could “provide a turning point for the reconciliation between the South and North,” Moon said. “I sincerely ask the IOC and (IOC member) Chang who are here with us today for their strong consideration and cooperation.”

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