Monday, July 16, 2007

No Legs = Unfair Advantage

...South African Oscar Pistorius, 20, on Sunday night made his debut against a top field of able-bodied athletes. In rainy chill that validated the common phrase "dreadful English weather," he finished a well-beaten seventh, then was disqualified for having run outside his No. 8 lane In the Norwich Union British Grand Prix race.
LA Times, 7/16/07
Oscar Pistorius' legs are missing from the knee down. He was profiled in Wired Magazine a few monts ago, which is why I know anything about a sports story. He has been fitted with carbon fibre springs in the place of normal prosthetic legs, as pictured here.
Pistorius was running in a race against less exotic atheletes, and he'd fought hard to compete in that arena. There are two arguments he had to refute. One is that as a man without legs, he was at a disadvantage. His counter-argument was the second reason why he shouldn't compete: the springs enabled him to propel himself farther than someone with mere feet, and with less body mass, his lungs didn't need to provide as much oxygen thus giving him better endurance.
So in a lot of ways, it's a race of apple versus oranges. Or cheetah versus motorcycles. The question is, is it a fair race?
And the answer is yes, if we all agree beforehand.
Sports is entertainment, nothing more. We pit people against each other and hope that one person or team will win. Often implicit is the assumption that they're evenly matched, but it's no requirement. If people buy tickets to the big Clean Vs. Steroids game, they are perfectly happy to root for clean or steroids, knowing that the Steroid people, while stronger, will have worse judgement and mobility. It's all in the disclosure. Plus, no one goes after their bookies if you know the parameters in advance.
This is the calculation that the promoters made when staging the Pistorius race. It's very disappointing that it ended in a technicality; because this proves nothing. If he wins the next one, it will prove something: We have the technology. We can rebuild him - better, stronger, faster.


Kevin Hayward said...

It's interesting that "different" used to be a huge disadvantage for those who were disabled. Who could have foreseen that having prosthetic limbs would serve as an advantage in any sport?

allassandra hayes said...

how can having no legs be an advantage. i think its amazing how technology can give people so much. instead of being silly about his 'abilities' why not be impressed with what th world can do to help almost any disability