Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter, can run 100 meters in 10.91s, 200 meters in 21.58s, and 400 meters in 46.34s. In case you’re not familiar with typical sprinting times, those are really fast, just shy of qualifying for the Olympics fast. Unfortunately, international track officials would rather he didn’t compete in Beijing in 2008. Why? His lower legs are carbon-fiber…
Pistorius wants to be the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. But despite his ascendance, he is facing resistance from track and field’s world governing body, which is seeking to bar him on the grounds that the technology of his prosthetics may give him an unfair advantage over sprinters using their natural legs.
Still, the question persists: Do prosthetic legs simply level the playing field for Pistorius, compensating for his disability, or do they give him an inequitable edge via what some call techno-doping?
Experts say there have been limited scientific studies on the biomechanics of amputee runners, especially those missing both legs. And because Pistorius lost his legs as an infant, his speed on carbon-fiber legs cannot be compared with his speed on natural legs.
Track and field’s world governing body, based in Monaco and known by the initials I.A.A.F., has recently prohibited the use of technological aids like springs and wheels, disqualifying Pistorius from events that it sanctions. A final ruling is expected in August.
“With all due respect, we cannot accept something that provides advantages,” said Elio Locatelli of Italy, the director of development for the I.A.A.F., urging Pistorius to concentrate on the Paralympics that will follow the Olympics in Beijing. “It affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back.”
Tough call. It’s logical that an able-bodied person shouldn’t be able to use technology that significantly enhances their performance (if not, then why not use a motorcycle?). On the other hand, Pistorius doesn’t have the option of competing without his technology.
Whether or not it takes place in the Olympics, it would be cool to see an arena where such individuals, and maybe able-bodied ones, using assistive technologies, could compete in maybe a range of classes, not unlike most vehicular racing. Like racing, it would encourage development and generate a trickle-down of technology that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
There’s more in Jere Longman’s NYT article…