A young man named Oscar Pistorius is making Olympic history as the first man to compete as a double amputee. Using J-shaped, carbon fiber “blades,” he is making an appearance on the South Africa 4×400 men’s relay team. The incredible thing isn’t that this amazing athlete is competing in the Games—it’s the guff he had to take to get there!
Oscar was born without a fibula (a bone that runs between the knee and ankle) in both of his legs, and by the time he was 11 months old, doctors removed his lower legs. He tried out for the Olympic Games in 2007, only to have the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) declare his prostheses illegal after putting Oscar through multiple tests with other runners.
In 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned the ruling of the IAAF, allowing Oscar to pursue his dream of competing in the games. (Side note: I had no idea how many law-making bodies there are for the sports!)
But a year later, two scientists reported that the prostheses “give him a clear advantage,” and “enhance sprinting speeds by 15 to 30 percent.”
There may be some validity to their conclusions, but I can’t speak to any of that (I didn’t see the data). There is an excellent article about how running on these blades may be both an advantage and a disadvantage. It seems like it all evens out in the end. Some of us are born with advantages that others may not have, whether that’s training facilities, fancy shoes or a long set of legs.
But in the spirit of perseverance that the Olympic Games embodies, I think this conversation may miss some of the point. For a man who has overcome what many would consider a major obstacle, he is finally going to the Olympics to give those other teams a run for their money. Even though I’ll be cheering for the U.S., I’ll be watching out for Oscar.
Do you think it’s fair Oscar is running in the Olympics? Where do you draw the line at biological enhancements?