August 5, 2012 26 Comments
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.
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