no olympics for oscar pistorius… for now.

This pisses me off. A few days ago the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced that South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, “the fastest man on no legs”, would not be allowed to compete at any events under it’s jurisdiction – including the Beijing Olympics. A bilateral amputee from the knees down, Pistorius runs on mega-high tech carbon fibre artificial limbs called Cheetahs. Maybe the name is too intimidating. They should call them “Slowpokes” or “Turtlesticks” or something.

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Pistorius has been annihilating Paralympic records since he first started running. After only 8 months of training, he broke two Paralympic world records in his very first race. Since then he’s gone on to consecutively break his own world records 29 times and holds the world record times in the 100m, 200m, and 400m. More than that, Pistorius was simply too fast for the Paralympics.  Suddenly, for the very time, an amputee athlete was running at almost the same times as his able-bodied competitors.

At the 2007 South African National Championships he won silver in the 400m against able-bodied runners. In July 2007 Pistorius competed in an able-bodied international 400m race for the first time – and came in second. He then announced his intention to become the first amputee-athlete to compete in the Olympic Games. That’s when the international debate began…

Pistorius has blown up the expectations of what a Paralympic athlete should be to compete at the very top of his sport. Rather than assume that maybe he’s one of the best runners ever, it’s assumed that it’s only possible because of his prostheses. Not because of the triumph of his will or a natural talent so great that it simply couldn’t be hidden.

Watching him run is amazing and has to be seen to be appreciated:

Soon, the IAAF was being asked questions it never had to face before. Pistorius was breaking out of the box. What exactly was he? Disabled or enhanced? Transcendent or assisted? A bunch of slower able-bodied runners wanted to know how he was beating them. Because it couldn’t possibly be that he’s just better.

In November 2007, German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann began testing the artificial limbs at the request of the IAAF. His study found that Pistorius’ limbs used 25% less energy than able-bodied runners to run at the same speed. In December, prematurely discussing his findings before the release of the official report, Brueggemann told Die Welt newspaper that Pistorius “has considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs who were tested by us.” This week IAAF made the announcement.

The argument is that Pistorius gets an unfair advantage from the spring provided by his prostheses and that since they’re lighter than organic legs he doesn’t tire as easily – giving him an advantage at the end of the race. The counter argument is that since his prosthetics lose 20% of the energy they expend (an organic leg only loses about 7%) it’s harder for him to build momentum – giving him a disadvantage at the beginning of the race. Easier at the end, harder at the beginning. So doesn’t everything even out?

The greater question here is one that will keep arising as biological technology evolves. A scientist can bounce his prostheses up and down in a machine and determine that it releases some percentage of energy versus a human leg, but how do we quantify the effort and skill it takes for an athlete to adapt their body to function that way? If we’re cool with assisting an amputee to a point that they’re considered “equally normal” to us, how can we then use that very assistance in a bid against them if they excel at something? Clearly Pistorius is naturally gifted. At what tipping point do we decide that someone is being given an unfair advantage instead of a fair one?

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In a world that over-uses the word “hero” and makes false-champions out of a lot unworthy personalities, he’s the real deal. Imagine the training and willpower it’s taken him to train his body and the courage to fight the dissent he clearly faces. He’s a pure example of turning what everyone tells you is a disability into a unique ability. He inspires me.

Pistorius has said before that if the IAAF decides to not let him run he’ll appeal. I hope he does. And I hope he kicks ass.


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Comments

  1. M Potter says:

    I was just wondering where you got these photos. I’m trying to find some large, hi-res photos for a project I’m doing.

    Thx,

Trackbacks

  1. […] out my last post about Pistorius for the complete story on the controversy surrounding his rise to stardom. In the end, after […]

  2. […] 4/18/08 read the comments to see an explanation why this “advantage” is negligible. Here is a good case for why he should be allowed to run.) Will we need an Extra-Special Olympics for […]

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