Oscar Pistorius Should Not Be Racing

Michael Johnson is right.

400 metre sprinter and double-leg amputee Oscar Pistorius should not be running against other able-bodied competitors.

Since Pistorius started running in 2003, there have been more questions surrounding his legitimacy than Roger Clemens at a congress hearing. After years of hearings and hoping to move beyond the Paralympics, Oscar Pistorius is finally competing against the best in the world at the 2012 London Olympics. He reached the semi-finals of the 400 with a time of 45.44 seconds on Saturday.

It is so easy to be politically incorrect in the new millennium. One wrong move and it’s off with your head. Just ask the two Olympic athletes who have already been sent home for a stupid tweet.

However, with Oscar Pistorius, it isn’t ignorant or wrong to say that he shouldn’t be competing with able-bodied competitors at the Olympics. Scientists are unsure of whether Pistorius’ prosthetic legs give him an unfair advantage. It’s that very uncertainty that should prevent him from running with the others.

Michael Johnson said “my position is that because we don’t know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics he wears, it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors.”

This isn’t like letting Jackie Robinson play in the Major Leagues.

It is true that Pistorius does have a number of disadvantages. He can’t dig in at the starting line, he can’t feel the track and he has to stand up straighter, meaning more wind resistance when he runs.

Humans want a great story. They love the underdog. Hell, who doesn’t love an underdog? People want to believe that the disadvantages Pistorius has outweigh or, at least, offset the advantages provided by his blades. Most Olympic fans won’t mind if Pistorius could have an unfair advantage because he represents the endearing qualities of perseverance, determination and overcoming adversity. Of course those are qualities that should be celebrated.

Too bad the Olympics aren’t meant for celebrating superior character traits.

Oscar Pistorius is competing against individuals who have invested their entire lives into making the Olympics. The possible unnatural benefit that Pistorius gains from his prosthetic legs has potentially ousted someone from the Olympics who may be the better runner. Someone who may be faster but has lost out because of the technology that is below the waist of Pistorius.

Pistorius shouldn’t be running at the Olympics for the same reason those who have been associated with PED’s in Major League Baseball should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame.

We just don’t know.

When Oscar Pistorius was reinstated back in 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), ruled based on testimony and data collected by Peter Weyand and a group of researches, that the prostheses give no energetic advantage relevant to sprinting. However, Peter Weyand, currently director of the SMU Locomotor Performance laboratory, has come out and said that it was “dead obvious” that Pistorius has an advantage based on the data that has been collected.

Even in the ruling, CAS noted that future scientific findings could still show the ‘Cheetah Flex-Feet’ that Pistorius uses could give him a mechanical advantage. David Epstein’s article for SI.com gives a much more detailed look into the ambiguity regarding this subject.

It isn’t scary that Pistorius looks different than the other competitors. What is scary is that that the blade runner’s unnatural ability could be the thing propelling him past other competitors. An unnatural ability that has South African teammate Sibusiso Sishi skeptical. Sishi’s opinion is “I don’t mind racing [Pistorius], but I’m still a bit skeptical about his legs because they are man-made. They are carbon fiber, which means they are nice and light. I would just like him to do the tests so at least we know where we stand.”

The fact is, there should not be any doubt.

Sishi can’t go all Michael Johnson on us because he is currently running on the same national team as Pistorious. Sishi understands that Pistorius’ “man-made” legs could be unjustly taking a spot away from another, possibly more deserving South African teammate.

Moreover, Pistorius may not be a medal contender at this point in time but what kind of precedent has this set for future years and generations? What happens if and when technology improves and we are still unable to determine the prosthetics true effects?

No one is questioning Pistorius’ undoubtedly ridiculous mental strength or the inspiration his running provides others. Of course it is unfair that Oscar Pistorius was born without fibulas in his legs but that shouldn’t skew the situation at hand. A heartwarming story can’t get in the way of what is fair and what isn’t.

This isn’t not about whether you believe Pistorius’ blades give him an advantage or not.

It’s that there is even a question.

Also, please vote for me to become Canada’s Next Sportscaster! I am one of the 24 finalists and I need your votes. It only takes a few seconds. Just follow the link: http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts. Agree? Disagree? You can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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26 Responses to Oscar Pistorius Should Not Be Racing

  1. Good research on the post and thanks for your comment on mine. My husband agrees with you and I think that if he were running a distance race, he would definitely have an advantage with lighter legs and being more efficient. With the 400, I’m not sure if it really makes a difference. But I can see your point.

  2. Chris –
    Good post and I appreciate your willingness to write on the edge! By allowing Pistorius to compete in the Olympics, the door has been opened for future challenges in all sports regarding the use of man-made materials or other perceived advantages that make it possible for an athlete to compete.

    It will be an interesting storyline to follow, for sure!

  3. Delana says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog, Chris and sharing your thoughts. I shared about Oscar because I think he is a fantastic example to children growing up without limbs (or other disabilities) and to war veterans that your life does not have to be less of a life. In terms of the debate of whether or not it is an unfair advantage, I think that decision is for the specialists in the field of science, technology and the Olympic committee. I heard a professor speak on the news tonight and found an article that had similar information. I will post a link to the article.
    Blessings,
    Delana

    http://onlyagame.wbur.org/2012/08/04/pistorius

  4. Enigma says:

    Chris, you have made great points in your blog. In my blog ‘When dreams come true’ https://myvuze.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/when-dreams-come-true/, I mentioned Oscar’s situation in terms of the odds he faced to be where he was. I did not get into the debate on whether he should be competing with able bodied runners. I however, had the discussion with my wife about my feelings about this.

    Believe it or not, I do side with you on this. I think Oscar Pistorius should be competing in the paralympics and not the olympics. I am not sure about the advantage aspect of it but the fact that he is not an able bodied athlete immediately disqualifies him from participation. Or at least, it should.

    Good post!

  5. Chris, thank you for the post. Like Delana, I am not trying to get into a debate about whether or not he should be competing, but want him to be a lesson for us all.

  6. chocolococo says:

    Someone told me Oscar Pistorius was in the Olympics (I don’t have a TV) so I googled to find out more and came across your blog. I also believe he shouldn’t have run and I’m surprised that they allowed this for the precedent it sets. Prostheses WILL become lighter, stronger, more responsive. That is a given (where were these cheetah blades 30 years ago?). What will the excuse be when the latest and greatest prosthetic brings home a gold for the wearer? I can guarantee that if Oscar Pistorius made it to the finals and brought home a gold there would be controversy surrounding it forever.

  7. Ruth2Day says:

    I come to this with a biased opinion based on having a disabled child myself, and therefore believing that everybody deserves a chance, whether they be able or dis-abled. That said, if the prosthetics offered an unfair advantage, I would not be in agreement with Oscar racing.
    Right now the tests confirm he can run and will not be advantaged, so I say let him run. I do not believe he took an able bodied person’s place, he took a place that he earned as an athlete, and I salute him.

  8. Hey Chris, great blog you have here, thanks for your comment on my post the other day. Here’s my take. Oscar Pistorius came in 2nd in his 400m heats. Then he came in last place in the next round, and didn’t make it in the end. The debate surrounding his ‘legitimacy’ will soon die down only because he didn’t win or even come in in the Top 3. Just watch. Just like @chocolococo said, “… if Oscar Pistorius made it to the finals and brought home a gold there would be controversy surrounding it forever.”

    Our world – and our sports world, in fact – is about constantly pushing boundaries and limits, and that’s what this person is doing. Everytime we push boundaries, there will be some people who push back positively, and there will be the negative ones. Whether he truly has an ‘unfair’ advantage is actually not the question we should be asking, because how will we ever know? We have legs. He doesn’t. The people who refuse to accept his legitimacy as a competitor with able-bodied people will never know what it feels like to run in J-shaped cheetahs, and I mean that scientifically. MY question is: in WHAT sort of test will we ever conduct that will ever prove that he is a legitimate competitor?

    Give his J-shaped cheetahs to another double-amputee and see if that candidate is able to clock similar timings as Pistorius. I believe it also has to do with his determination and willpower to achieve his dreams and overcoming his shortcomings and obstacles. And isn’t that the basis of becoming a legitimate competitive athlete?

    I look forward to seeing him again on the track in 4 years time!

  9. Then by that measure , should Justin Gatlin have been allowed to compete in the 100 meters having knowingly taken a banned substance , albeit that he had his suspension reduced by the CAS . This is all a a slippery slope to begin with ! There are no edicts set by the IOC concerning this to begin with . Furthermore , legally blind archer won a gold in the London Olympics , having set a world record in his chosen event . . Now what ? If Pistorius is to be your “benchmark” < , I'd suggest you dig deeper into the other athletes competing and not just look at the fact of so called perceived "advantages" that he's said to have which in truth haven't been proven .

    • Bagels says:

      Banned substance leaves the body – now he has the same body. The “legally bind” Korean can actually see (20/200 vision), he *has* eyes, and uses them to spot the target. You’re points are non-points. Or, maybe you’re missing the opposite end of what Pistorius is.

      • What points have been missed ? The substance Gatlin tested positive for hadn’t left his body . His act was willful . The IAAF had not yet ruled on Pistorius’ status nor had the IOC . And detail to me what distinct advantage these blades are said to give the athlete when his times aren’t even in the top 50 times in the world at the distance (400m) ? None point ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

        The Korean archer has eyes but he is legally blind and does not have 20/.20 vision , he has a spotter to assist him .

        The Olympic ideal has become subverted as it has become all about money and less about the competitive spirit . Never mind the fact the IOC itself remains a completely corrupt organization to begin with . But here we are discussing the merits of an athlete wanting to compete against his able bodied counterparts . Oh my !

        Tophatal …………….

      • Bagels says:

        So he should have been banned, and come back when he’s clear. Simple. But, he *will* have a normal body, whereas Pistorius will NOT.

        As for the archer, tell me about the spotter, because if he’s getting live feedback before a shot then he should, like Pistorius, not be in the Olympics.

        Pistorius should be in the Paralympics.

  10. Peter says:

    Hi Chris. Thanks for the visit to my blog, and thanks also for the invitation to come visit you on yours!

    It’s a tough question isn’t it, and you’ve eloquently laid out the case for why Pistorius should carry on competing so successfully in the ParaLympics.

    I think the key fact of the matter is that we don’t know for sure if the Blades give him an unfair advantage, or if he continues to run under an unfair disadvantage when compared to the others. In other words, the CheetahBlades have entered a grey zone where the advantage/disadvantage is so finely balanced, that the experts can’t decisively call it in either direction.

    If there were a clear advantage from the Blades, no matter how fine, then I would agree with you. There isn’t though, and over time we are going to develop more and more technologies that allow the disabled to compete side-by-side against the able bodied. This is an outcome I would hugely embrace rather than keeping the disabled sequestrated into their own separate event, just in case, they have a slight advantage.

    For the wonderful empowering message of equality such competitors as Pistorius can generate, I’m happy to live with the grey-zone.

    Thanks again for the contact Chris, and lets keep in touch
    Peter

    • Bagels says:

      They’re not sequestered. There are two distinct platforms for athletes to compete from: the Olympics and the Paralympics. If you like gray zones, then the Paralympics is the place for you. Able-bodied is able-bodied, and Pistorius isn’t able-bodied. For example, you have to have 20/20 vision to be a fighter pilot. If you aren’t able-eyed naturally, you won’t be flying. Simple as that. The “gray” you seek brings the *potential* of “cutting in line” ahead of people who would now be better off amputating themselves and installing Cheetah Flex 9000s. This isn’t rainbow world socialism, it’s the able-bodied athletic competition called the Olympics. Or, rather, it should be.

    • chocolococo says:

      I completely agree with Bagles, and I think you are missing the point. Firstly, wanting “disabled” athletes to be empowered and not feeling they should compete alongside able-bodied athletes if they are using assistive devices (e.g. prostheses, target location aides or what have you) are not mutually exclusive desires. Wanting the Olympics to be based on comparison of natural physical abilities between athletes is distinctly separate from empowerment of the disabled, but many people seem to be linking the two saying that if you don’t want one you don’t want the other either. I specifically mentioned assistive devices because if Oscar Pistorius were able to run without them and still beat the able-bodied men I’d have less of a problem with it (although technically I probably would feel he still should not compete against them in the Olympic games, but maybe some other forum).

      Secondly, you may be happy to live with a grey zone because you are not involved in the competition. If you had spent the last several years intensively training for these events, spending thousands of dollars on coaching, equipment, and training locations and traveling costs, and you came in second to Oscar Pistorius, I think you would be less likely to feel fine with a grey zone.

      Thirdly, and the biggest issue for me, is this troubling assumption that because these current cheetah blades have been tested and found not to provide an advantage that no future iterations of these or other prosthesis will either. This is a problem because we can see for ourselves how far prostheses have come; all you have to do is look back a few decades. They have dramatically improved and they will continue to improve. A precedent has been set though, so when better blades that do provide an advantage are produced, you’ll have to let the athlete compete anyway.

  11. J-Dub says:

    “It is so easy to be politically incorrect in the new millennium. One wrong move and it’s off with your head. Just ask the two Olympic athletes who have already been sent home for a stupid tweet.”

    “However, with Oscar Pistorius, it isn’t ignorant or wrong to say that he shouldn’t be competing with able-bodied competitors at the Olympics. Scientists are unsure of whether Pistorius’ prosthetic legs give him an unfair advantage. It’s that very uncertainty that should prevent him from running with the others.”

    Those two paragraphs are so dead-on it isn’t funny. You know I am certainly not afraid of the Politically Correct Police, and this story has been woefully under-reported.

    Of course his protheses give him an advantage…you can’t sprain a Cheetah Blade. Cheetah Blades don’t cramp. If you break it, you pop on a new one. You need a tool kit, not an orthopedic surgeon.

  12. Chris, you are right, there are still question marks. But where does the unfair advantage take place. The athletes that have all their limbs also have all their muscles. Oscar has less muscles. Meaning, those athletes carry body wight evenly with every muscle working together. Oscar actually has to carry extra weight with less muscle. Now, if you are speaking of the springing action it creates, here is your explanation. He must be able to build up the inertia necessary to create speed. His prosthetic legs only assist him in doing what a normal athlete can do, pull his own weight. Otherwise, he never reaches a point of kinetic energy.

  13. Keon R. says:

    Society is too addicted to the “feel good” story. If there is any doubt he shouldn’t race. It’s just better not to be wrong about these things in retrospect.

  14. I’m pretty sure I know where Casey Martin stands on this.

  15. Jason Curlee says:

    Hey Chris…great thoughts here…and I don’t dispute those facts….my blog post centered more around the not giving up and not dieing to a dream…stand up against all odds….you can dispute possibly the fact that he could/should maybe not be running….but what you can’t dispute is the heart he has…the determination…not giving up when the majority of people would have quit…that is where I believe his story does stand out.

  16. Bruce Neubauer says:

    I am going to sound like a hating, bigoted, intolerant, mean-spirited snark, but I have reached the point of absolute fatigue with touchy-feelyness. The fact Oscar used the courts to circumnavigate the rules makes him even less endearing to me. Oscar needs to have the ‘heart’ to step back from himself long enough to say, “I wish I were like you able-bodied athletes, but I’m not. I won’t pretend otherwise. The Olympics are yours, so I won’t crash your party. I will pursue my craft through other venues.” That would make Oscar not only a brutally honest man, but also an honorable man. And people could offer him authentic respect, instead of the artificial touchy-feely stuff. Instead, I think we’ve been served up a dose of Oscar’s personal arrogance dressed up by the media to look like inspiring bravery. Chris, excellent point about the Olympics as the place to celebrate physical achievement and not nice character traits. This kind of stuff is all about what feels good and little to do with what is good. Completely absurd.

  17. frigginloon says:

    Great post Chris. In the age of political correctness it is refreshing to read a post that raises the question that is no doubt in everyone’ s minds, with logic and reason.

  18. What you fail to acknowledge is the rules and what is sanctioned by the IOC . The IAAF didn’t have a problem Pistorius competing in their sanctioned events and the same with regard to the rules stipulated by the IOC .

    Let me pose this question , while the Olympics were in session and there was a Syrian delegation competing . How is it that no one questions the fact that in that Middle Eastern country , with its dictator (Bashir al Assad) was running amok committing genocide and mass murder ? And you’re griping about Pistorius ? The rules don’t prohibit the Korean archer from competing and the conditions are set as such for events of that kind .

  19. Bagels what part of the rules is that you don’t understand with regard to steroid abuse beyond the irreparable damage it does to the body …. renal failure and impotency ?

    Tophatal ………….

  20. Lets me say this one thing. Honestly he shouldn’t be racing because he isn’t using real legs.

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