Fri 16 May 2008
Yesterday Oscar Pistorious was approved to run in Olympic qualifying events and go to Beijing if he can make the qualifying time. Oscar had his legs amputated at the knee when he was 11 months old, and uses carbon fiber prosthetic "Cheetah" blades.
This is a random topic, but I was reading through the comments on ESPN.com, and I'm torn about this so I thought I'd share. Here's the thing: apparently reasonable people (and scientific experts) disagree about whether Oscar gains an advantage over able-bodied runners with his prosthetics, and therefore whether he should be allowed to run. An MIT professor says no, a German professor says yes. Who's right? Who knows.
But here's what bothers me, and why I think I'm leaning towards thinking he shouldn't be allowed to run. While every other runner is stuck with muscles, Oscar gets to choose his equipment. Now, to be fair, I'm sure if he had a choice Oscar would choose muscles over carbon fiber. But, as it is he gets the benefits of materials science and engineering. He gets to decide which legs he puts on. If we had conclusive evidence that his chosen equipment mimicked legs perfectly, or provided no advantage whatsoever, then fine. But we don't have that. And I'm not sure we ever will. My hack scientific view on biomechanics is that the Cheetahs operate on fundamentally different principles, and what might be an advantage for one body type would not be for another.
I realize this is controversial. I don't think what I'm saying is discriminatory, or at least I don't mean for it to be. I just think this is a dangerous precendent for sport. Thoughts?