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Oscar Pistorius And His Prosthetic Legs Could Ruin The Olympics, Says Man Who Is Wrong

  • Matt Rudnitsky

Oscar Pistorius is a double amputee who’s going to run track in the Olympics.

Read that sentence again.

Double amputee. Track. Olympics.

“Blade Runner” was born without a fibula in either of his legs, and doctors amputated them both when he was 11 months old. He’s never run on his own two legs, yet will compete in both the men’s individual 400-meter run and the men’s 4×400-meter relay at the Games. Surely, this is the type of impenetrably inspirational story that no one can find fault in, not even historically contrarian CBS Sports National Columnist Gregg Doyel.

Welp…

“Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius shouldn’t run — shouldn’t be allowed to run — in the 2012 Olympics.

It’s not fair for Oscar Pistorius, running on carbon-fiber blades called Flex-Foot Cheetahs, to race against able-bodied runners. Able-bodied runners run. Pistorius springs. Does that sound fair to you? Doesn’t sound fair to me.”

Doyel isn’t alone, actually. He’s part of a contingent who thinks Pistorius should be banned from competing in the Games alongside able-bodied athletes, since his prosthetic blades may or may not give him a competitive advantage.

Indeed, Doyel’s main argument is that Pistorius’ blades are unfair. And, yeah, they sound pretty unfair when you frame them like that. But it’s much more complex than simply saying he “springs.”

He’s not using flubber. Obviously, science is the only way to determine if the Cheetahs are indeed an unfair an advantage. As Doyel points out, the evidence to this point is inconclusive, and although it was originally ruled that he couldn’t compete alongside able-bodied runners, the decision was overturned.

“One report says Pistorius’ blades give him a 10-second advantage in 400 meters, while others wouldn’t put a number on it but concluded Pistorius clearly has an edge over able-bodied runners. Others still say the advantage Pistorius gets from his blades is counteracted by the disadvantage — the bruising on the knees, the stress on the thighs — of having to run with prosthetic limbs, or that there is no advantage at all. So there’s a lot we don’t know.”

The studies that say he has an unfair advantage are not even close to conclusive. In fact, since the human body is such a complex entity, it’s likely that it will never be proven definitively. Sure, if the evidence was overwhelming, there would be a serious argument. But it’s not. When a scientist claims that the Cheetahs give him a 10-second advantage, something is way off.

Pistorius’s best time is 45.07. According to the 10-second advantage theory, his best time with normal legs (and I’m not sure how they could estimate the strength/mechanics of his imagined, unique legs), would be 55.07. I was a one-season track athlete — merely an above-average high-school sprinter — and I was able to run that time. Not only was I below Olympic standards, I was well below State qualifying standards. Essentially, this theory, which (seemingly) intelligent scientists believe to be true, states that the best paralympic 400-meter runner ever wouldn’t have even been one of the best sprinters on my bad high-school track team.

Right.

Pistorius himself explains it best.

“There are tens of thousands of people with the same prosthetics I use, but there’s no one running the same times,” Pistorius wrote in a column in a British newspaper. “You’ll always get people who have their opinions on whether I should be competing in London, but they can’t explain my times.”

Back to Doyel, who’s gonna take this one to the house:

“And it doesn’t matter, not even a little bit, that Pistorius has no chance to win. He probably won’t reach the 400-meter final, given that he has beaten the Olympic qualifying time of 45.30 seconds just twice in his career. By himself, Oscar Pistorius isn’t a threat to the integrity of the Olympic Games.”

That’s, well… wrong. It’s unlikely Pistorius will win the individual 400-meter, but his personal-best time would have been good for fifth place at the 2008 Beijing Games. I’m not saying he’ll make the final, but much stranger things have happened. And his relay team is currently ranked second in the world, so I think it’s safe to say they’re at least a threat to win a medal.

But here’s my main problem with Doyel’s argument:

“Pistorius represents so much more than one man, one country, even one Olympiad. He represents every amputee from this day forward, and once he runs in the 2012 Games, the precedent will have been set. And it’s not a good one.

His carbon-fiber blades will be improved, as technology always is improved. What if the technology advances to the point that Oscar Pistorius is the fastest 400-meter runner in the world by 2016? It’ll be too late to have second thoughts, because the 2012 Games will have established that a runner with bouncy, springy blades (think of a rock skipping across the water) can fairly run against men with feet and ankles (think of a runner, running).”

First of all, the precedent has already been set, just not in men’s sprinting. And still, there’s no way it will be “too late” to do anything if technology indeed evolves to the point that Doyel speculates it will.

Oscar Pistorius was allowed into this year’s Olympics because there’s no way to prove his Cheetahs are an unfair advantage. He’s the only double amputee to ever get this far, out of thousands upon thousands of athletes who have worked tirelessly to reach his level. He’s the best of them all.

Amputees (or athletes with any other disability) and their artificial devices can (and will) be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If someone comes out with a teleportation machine in time for the next Olympics, I think it’s safe to assume that it won’t be legal in track events. Nor will prosthetic legs that are a proven advantage and allow multiple amputees to qualify. (Again, this is the only time this has ever happened for a double amputee.)

Oscar Pistorius is not one of an army of superfreak, Olympic-dominating robots. He’s not a superior Alien athlete. He’s merely one incredibly talented, hardworking runner.

More from Doyel:

“The technological advances for amputees are awesome for real-world applications, but unfair for sport. Imagine Pistorius breaking Michael Johnson’s 400 record, then putting it out of reach for able-bodied runners. That’s where this could go.”

Hyperbole, bruh. This situation is entirely preventable. If this became the case, then the devices assisting him would be deemed unfair, and therefore would be outlawed.

For example: baseball bats have certain regulations. As do hockey sticks and many, many other pieces of sports equipment. Aluminum bats are outlawed. People that can afford aluminum bats are not outlawed, they are simply forbidden to use them. If Pistorius or another amputee has access to unfair technology in the future, he or she will not be banned; they will merely be forced to go back to the Cheetahs, or whatever has been deemed fair.

Everybody in the world is eligible to qualify for the Olympics at birth. That’s the beauty of the Games. Some people have certain genetic, socioeconomic, or other advantages. Some have disadvantages, like disabilities. But if someone is good enough, they are allowed. No exceptions, save rule or lawbreaking (Saudi Arabia is even letting women participate these days). Saying that anybody good enough to qualify shouldn’t be allowed in is a veritable case of discrimination. If equipment — or a prosthetic — is unfair, it should (and will) be banned.

But no person who qualified should ever be banned. Doyel is right to consider parity, but discriminating against a double amputee is nonsensical and wrong.

Doyel doesn’t prove that Pistorius has an unfair advantage. What he says is that, in the future, he and other amputees will probably have one. He may be right. But why are we holding that against a guy who doesn’t have legs? Just so that he doesn’t set a “dangerous precedent,” a precedent that is completely reversible and not conclusively dangerous at all?

I’m glad Oscar Pistorius is running in the Olympics, and I hope he wins both damn races.


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