Oscar Pistorius’ Olympic dream has come to an apparent end after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled the double amputee ineligible for the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.
Pistorius, a 21-year-old sprinter from South Africa, has run 46.56 for 400 metres with the aid of prosthetic legs made of carbon fibre, fast enough to compete with the world’s best. He already holds world records for double amputees at 100, 200 and 400 metres. Pistorius competed with able-bodied runners in the B-section of a Golden League meet in Rome last July, finishing second in 46.90.
In its ruling, the IAAF said that Pistorius’ prosthetics are an aid and give him an advantage over his competitors. An independent study showed that “Pistorius was able to run with his prosthetic blades at the same speed as the able bodied sprinters” using about 25 percent less energy. The study also pointed to differences in mechanics, notably an increase in energy return and a decrease in vertical motion.
Pistorius’ prosthetics return three times as much energy as a human ankle, and do not require the body to expend as much energy lifting its own weight. The IAAF council concluded that “an athlete using the Cheetah prosthetic [Pistorius uses] is able to run at the same speed as able-bodied athletes with lower energy consumption.”
Compounding the South African’s woes is the fact that his personal best is well short of the Olympic A standard of 45.55.
The ruling might not be popular, but it is fair. Pistorius is by no means at an advantage as an amputee who uses prosthetics. The prosthetics themselves, however, do constitute an advantage, much in the same way as shoes with wheels would. The ruling, it is worth noting, does not ban disabled athletes from competing alongside able-bodied athletes. Only Pistorius’ Cheetah prosthetics were banned by this study because of the unfair advantage that they provide.
That Pistorius is already disadvantaged or that he is unlikely to win ought not to influence the debate. So long as his prosthetics provide him with an unfair advantage over his competitors, he ought to be treated in the same way as any other athlete with an unfair advantage.
Read this March 2007 Wired magazine profile, “Blade Runner.”
Leave a comment and share your thoughts on the subject. What do you think of the IAAF’s decision?
Editors Note: We’ve added the video you see below for further reference.