Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Define "Fair"

By now you may have heard about a 20 year old runner from South Africa named Oscar Pistorius. He is notable because he was born without fibula, calf, and ankle bones. He had his legs amputated when he was 11 months old and learned to walk, run, and even play rugby on prosthetic legs. Following an injury, he moved away from rugby and starting running in track competitions. Recently, new technology was used to develop prosthetics called "Blades" to give amputees more agility and speed while running (as shown on Pistorius, at left). The specific Blades that Pistorius uses are manufactured by a company from Iceland. They modeled the shape of these Blades after the curvature of a cheetah's legs.

He's making news because he wants to be allowed to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but the
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has issued an opinion saying that his Blades give him an unfair advantage, which they believe clearly violates an IAAF rule introduced in March banning from competition any runner who is found to be reaping some benefit from artificial help. The IAAF claim is that Pistorius's blades provide less air resistance than normal legs, therefore he has the advantage over able-bodied runners.

While he may be using state of the art Blades that offer an extra "spring in his step," that fact remains that while able-bodied runners have the luxury of using an entire leg's worth of muscle to run, Pistorius has only his upper thigh muscles to propel him forward. That he can run in the first place is a huge accomplishment, but to be as good at it as he is must be recognized as skill on the same level as that of a Michael Phelps or a Lance Armstrong. I'm not a doctor, and I know about as much about anatomy as I know about Mexican donkey shows, but wouldn't more amputee athletes be competing and (more importantly) winning against able-bodied runners if the secret to Pistorius's success was simply the type of Blade he uses? It seems like Pistorius's physical abilities are being outshined by his disabilities. And if he was truly at an "unfair advantage" over the able-bodied runners, wouldn't he have placed
higher than seventh in Sheffield?

Naturally, Pistorius is upset about the IAAF statement. I suppose I would be, too, if I had struggled as much as Pistorius has. But here's the thing: I tend to agree with the IAAF's opinion. Pistorius probably should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics. Hear me out: for one thing, he can continue to compete in the
Paralympics, so it's not as if he's being completely shut out of competition. However, the biggest reason he shouldn't be allowed to compete in the Olympics isn't because of his disability or his current set of Blades; it's because of the Blades of the future. Who knows what technology will bring in the next 10 years? Perhaps those Blades really will be better than real legs, so what then? Do the Olympic Committee and the IAAF issue a retraction and ban runners with these prosthetics? Imagine the outrage! So why not nip it in the bud and say "NO" now so this doesn't happen in the future? No matter when this ban is inevitably issued, these two athletic organizations are going to be vilified for being discriminatory, even though the ban will be issued in the interest of maintaining fairness. Ironic, isn't it?

Now from the WTF files: Australian rugby player Ben Czislowski sustained a head wound that required a few stitches after colliding head-to-head with player Matt Austin on April 1. Later, Czislowski would suffer from an eye infection, lethargy, and shooting pains in his head. Last week doctors finally figured out why the injury was taking so long to heal: they found Austin's tooth imbedded in Czislowski's head!!! O-U-C-H!!!!!!!

No comments: