(Para|O)lympian
July 4, 2012 5:08 PM   Subscribe

South Africa has named Oscar Pistorius and his running blades (Previously Previouslier Previousliest) to their 2012 Olympic track and field team in the 400 and 4x400 relay. He needed to run a 45.30 or better twice this year to qualify on his own merits, but he has done this only once this year (and at least once last year). The New York Times Magazine profiled him earlier this year. However, he will not be the first competitor to be named to both the olympics and paralympics in the same year:

posted by persona (103 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very thorny slippery slope ahead.
posted by parki at 5:26 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Totally. What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?
posted by Renoroc at 5:29 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I didn't ask for this"
posted by rebent at 5:36 PM on July 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


'Pistorius' is the perfect superhero/villain name for someone with superior artificial legs.
posted by BiggerJ at 5:44 PM on July 4, 2012


Very thorny slippery slope ahead.
seems like that would be easier to navigate with those prosthetics.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:45 PM on July 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Whatever, good for him. I hope he does well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:51 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Totally. What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?

Seems no different from drugs. My understanding is that if you have a legitimate medical need for a drug that could somehow conceivably assist your performance, you don't expect your medical need to not come under scrutiny, and you accept that your use of it may be restricted to the minimum that is seen as medically necessary. And if you can't demonstrate a legitimate medical need, you can't use it or you can't compete.

drugs are augments, after all.

If this results in a world where only the crippled have a realistic chance of Olympic gold, we can figure out that bridge if it ever materializes :)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:52 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's some kind of boundary-transgressing common thread between the running blades and the testosterone-based gender testing, but I'm not able to articulate it yet.
posted by persona at 5:56 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe we've reached the point where we can no-longer escape asking the genuine question "At what point is someone beyond human?"

This is one of those problems that's good to have :)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:16 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Totally. What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?

Amputation is significant surgery, followed by a substantial recovery period just to learn basic functions with the artificial limb. Pistorius never walked on flesh legs - he had prostheses from the getgo. There's no guarantee someone who was an athlete before amputation would be able to function at his or her previous level with even the most advanced and tailored prostheses, much less adapt well enough to experience any advantages over other original-flesh-only athletes.
posted by gingerest at 6:17 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


People always joke about an "all drug (enhancement) olympics."

I wonder if there is a forum for competition without restraint whether that would change the idea of amateur sports competition? Like, there is a class for "bodybuilding" and also one for "natural bodybuilding" (qv), could there be a Physical Augment Olympics and a Chemical Augment Olympics? What about biological grafts, would that fit under physical or chemical?
posted by porpoise at 6:20 PM on July 4, 2012


The word "run" has upwards of 400 definitions in English, and by the time the court cases get settled there will be at least five more.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:21 PM on July 4, 2012


Yay for tink tink!
posted by Danila at 6:23 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of a throwaway bit of establishing detail in an episode of the Ghost in the Shell TV series (the one where Batou goes undercover as a boxing instructor), where it's implied that the Paralympics have become far more prestigious and widely-followed than the vanilla Olympics, since Paralympic athletes have so much more capable prosthetic bodies.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:25 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


i almost never go to the authorities, but in this case, if the international olympic committee is ok with pistorius, then i'm ok with pistorius. my personal little for-against metric is stuck on exactly 50.00 on this one.
posted by facetious at 6:41 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of a character in Stephenson's Snow Crash:

"I tried prostheses for a while-some of them are very good. But nothing is as good as a motorized wheelchair. And then I got to thinking, why do motorized wheelchairs always have to be tiny pathetic things that strain to go up a little teeny ramp? So I bought this-it is an airport firetruck from Germany-and converted it into my new motorized wheelchair."

[YT:] "It's very nice."

"America is wonderful because you can get anything on a drive-through basis. Oil change, liquor, banking, car wash, funerals, anything you want-drive through. So this vehicle is much better than a tiny pathetic wheelchair. It is an extension of my body."

...

"Your mistake," Ng says, "is that you think that all mechanically assisted organisms - like me - are pathetic cripples. In fact, we are better than we were before."
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:49 PM on July 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


...could there be a Physical Augment Olympics and a Chemical Augment Olympics?

They should do this with the Tour de France. The drug use and blood packing is already so prevalent, that the alternate would have to be the non-augmented version.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:52 PM on July 4, 2012


I wonder if there is a forum for competition without restraint

Performance enhancing drugs aren't banned because they enhance performance (it's ok to enhance performance, that's why athletes train) they're banned because they're dangerous. If you are competing in a venue where the winner is the person who can best ride the knife edge of withstanding more drugs and hormone disruption than anyone else before falling, then for starters, it's not going to be much of a sport because most of the athletes in the field will get too sick (or dead) to compete, then you've left with a pretty small field of partly-sick athletes, and then... the fact that they're enhanced fish might not count for as much when they can only compete in such a small pond that they can't grow as easily.

I guess what you're asking for is the same as a genuinely-no-holds-barred cage match fighting where participants are free to cripple or kill each other. Either there are (secret) rules to seriously reduce the likelihood of competitors losing their future, or the very best athletes are not going to participate.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:52 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


The drug use and blood packing is already so prevalent,

The drug use is still greatly restricted merely by athletes having to maintain that outward appearance that they are conceivably clean. Making drug use ok wouldn't have the effect of legitimizing the status quo, it would mean that the status quo isn't remotely near enough drug use, and to be in with a chance of competing you need to using a potentially lethal amount and hope you're one of the lucky ones. A kind of russian roulette.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:57 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll let other people argue over whether this is good or bad for track & field.

I'm more than happy to sit back and watch history be made either way.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 7:00 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A kind of russian roulette.

Except with more bullets.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:02 PM on July 4, 2012


Very thorny slippery slope ahead.

Really? I would have thought the thorns would stop people from slipping.

The idea that the Olympics do anything outside a very strict profit-mentality is hilarious. They should let him compete, it's fucking sport for god's sake; no one dies if he enters a race.
posted by smoke at 7:14 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


smoke: They should let him compete, it's fucking sport for god's sake; no one dies if he enters a race.

It's going to be pretty dispiriting for pretty much all the athletes in that sport if he goes out and sets a bunch of records that no normal-bodied runner can ever beat.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:18 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's going to be pretty dispiriting for pretty much all the athletes in that sport if he goes out and sets a bunch of records that no normal-bodied runner can ever beat.

On the other hand, that would be pretty encouraging to pretty much all the disabled people in the world that might be watching.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:21 PM on July 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's going to be pretty dispiriting for pretty much all the athletes in that sport if he goes out and sets a bunch of records that no normal-bodied runner can ever beat.

I guess they can cry into their million-dollar nike contracts, and do even more intensive training at their govt funded sports institutes. That hypothetical doesn't exist anyway - dude's competitive but he's not exactly cyborg Usain Bolt territory.

What are the olympics about? (well, we know what they're about: money, but on paper what are they about?) The idea of humans achieving their utmost potential and celebrating that together, as community members, or just a competition so you can be the best?

Add my name to the former thanks, if it can't make people feel good fuck it. Bouncy fake-legs or no, dude's overcome just as many if not more challenges than most people on the starting blocks.
posted by smoke at 7:28 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


if he goes out and sets a bunch of records

He hasn't managed to do it yet. There will probably be someone who can, in the not-too-distant future, but not yet.

Still, historic and fascinating. I've been watching the U.S. track and field trials and they're getting me all stoked for watching the Olympics.
posted by rtha at 7:29 PM on July 4, 2012


I can only imagine how hard it must be to compete with prostheses in the Olympics. I mean, good Christ, here we are worrying or wondering about whether he will break records, and it's more than likely he will never advance to the finals.

This is not Ghost in the Shell or Snowcrash technofantasties, it's just a guy who happened to work hard so that he could compete, unfair advantage or not, with the best in the world.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:47 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


I ate five hot dogs today. I am not allowed to comment on one's right to run fast competitively.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:59 PM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


The drug use is still greatly restricted merely by athletes having to maintain that outward appearance that they are conceivably clean. Making drug use ok wouldn't have the effect of legitimizing the status quo, it would mean that the status quo isn't remotely near enough drug use, and to be in with a chance of competing you need to using a potentially lethal amount and hope you're one of the lucky ones. A kind of russian roulette.

If performance-enhancing drug use was anything like Ben Affleck portrayed it to be in his Very Special Made-For-TV Movie on steroid use, this would be the case. But in general the people giving athletes pharmaceuticals are in the business of making sure those athletes can perform to their top capabilities, not "ride a knife edge" while "hoping [they're] one of the lucky ones". Are PEDs harmful if taken in large quantities with no regards to dosing structure, cycling, and in total ignorance of their proper use? Yes, same as aspirin, anti-psychotics, and asthma inhalers. But under medical supervision--and nearly all top athletes take them under medical supervision--they provide far more help than harm. That's why athletes take them, and that's why, to a man (or woman), people who take PEDs will have an advantage over those who do not. Do you have actual experience with PED use or people who have used PEDs?
posted by schroedinger at 8:22 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do wonder if and when he breaks records in the Olympics, will they always have an asterisk beside them?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:26 PM on July 4, 2012


So, how long before they start making sure they the prosthetic the athletes use are slightly modded but still based on "production" prosthesis? We wouldn't want an Olympian to win a race just because he has super high-tech one off hot-rod legs that the other para-athletes don't have access to right?

Some time after that, they'll just have some events where everyone uses the same model prosthetic to make sure no one has an unfair advantage and to keep costs down.

Eventually, track and field will look a lot auto racing is what I'm saying. I don't think it will be a bad thing.
posted by VTX at 8:34 PM on July 4, 2012


His blades are always described as running prostheses. What does he use while not active?
posted by acidic at 8:42 PM on July 4, 2012


Are PEDs harmful if taken in large quantities with no regards to dosing structure, cycling, and in total ignorance of their proper use? Yes, same as aspirin, anti-psychotics, and asthma inhalers.

Except that performance-enhancing drugs are medications used for off-label applications and so have completely circumvented the clinical trial mechanism for determining safety, effectiveness and efficacy. There's no real evidence base - just self-styled authorities using athletes' bodies for unsupervised experimentation.
posted by gingerest at 8:59 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


His blades are always described as running prostheses. What does he use while not active?

I want to believe he straps on tank treads and trundles around town crushing all in his path.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:20 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


His blades are always described as running prostheses. What does he use while not active?

Seriously, though, I imagine that he has a range of legs for various purposes, like fellow runner Aimee Mullins.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:32 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another point regarding PEDs vrs Prostheses - while drug use is poorly understood, hard to control and inconsistently performance enhancing their effects are also hard to quantify, difficult to limit to time and place, systemic/global in their effect and well nigh impossible to regulate outside of an outright ban.

Removable prosthetics can have well defined legal parameters, be checked for compliance at competition time and are effective only while worn.
posted by mce at 9:33 PM on July 4, 2012


You can't understand unless you see what's happening in football:

Parents aren't letting their kids play football.

Texan parents aren't letting their kids play football.

The brain damage evidence is achieving critical mass. Sports are cool up to the moment they're clearly deadly. Then they remain interesting -- like the joke about NASCAR, with everyone waiting for cars to crash -- but they're certainly nothing you want to role model, let alone let your kids do.

The restrictions on drugs are all about making sure parents will let their kids play, and (on the Olympic side) making sure wins are respected as coming from the competitors and not the chemists (or the states behind them). Anyone who thinks PEDs are necessarily healthy in the long term is deluding themselves -- humans just don't consider long term interests for much of anything, least of which is consumption of substances. That's a thing even without major state interests backing or requiring the use of drugs.

I still remember the first time I had to drink alcohol to help close a sale. Totally different in that scenario. Not cool.

With regards to these prosthetics -- what's interesting here is that he's not competing in an identical sport. Imagine a full body prosthetic that powered an electric motor that wheeled a prone body across the track. Impressive from both an athletic and engineering standpoint, but just not the same game. What's more interesting is that it doesn't matter -- Pistorius' story is inspirational, he's one hell of a role model, and he brings pride and honor to the sport in the exact *opposite* of what PEDs do.

So, maybe he's playing a different game. He's playing an enormously difficult one and I'm not going to begrudge him his berth.
posted by effugas at 9:46 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, how long before they start making sure they the prosthetic the athletes use are slightly modded but still based on "production" prosthesis? We wouldn't want an Olympian to win a race just because he has super high-tech one off hot-rod legs that the other para-athletes don't have access to right?

That's not radically different from what happened with swimming. Over 130 swimming world records were broken in just two years, because of the LZR high tech suit and its various imitators. Remember the last Olympics, where it seemed like the world record was broken in every single race? You weren't imagining things. Michael Phelps set seven world records in eight events. That's not going to happen this time, because new rules are in place. That, sadly, might render some of the existing world records unbreakable, which sort of sucks for future athletes.

I suspect that one reason it doesn't happen right now for the Paralympics is that there just isn't enough money in the sport to make it worthwhile. If that changes, we already have a pretty good example for how it will turn out.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:00 PM on July 4, 2012


Hmm, well, I guess if all steroids are so irrevocably damaging long-term you should explain that to the AIDS patients who have happily used them for decades to combat muscle wasting. I would really like to see your evidence that PED usage is tied to inevitable cancer and death, or whatever you think they are. I am not saying they do not come without drawbacks--if someone insists on doing high levels of test for years and years non-stop, of course there will be consequences. But that is a pretty clear, blatant misuse of the drug, kind of like someone who decided they were going to down a bottle of aspirin every day because sure, why not?

Another point regarding PEDs vrs Prostheses - while drug use is poorly understood, hard to control and inconsistently performance enhancing their effects are also hard to quantify, difficult to limit to time and place, systemic/global in their effect and well nigh impossible to regulate outside of an outright ban.

Actually, most popular PEDs are pretty well understood and their performance enhancing effects well-quantified. Do you really think people using PEDs just grab massive quantities of test or whatever off the shelf and start injecting willy-nilly? And that effects are totally random? It really doesn't work like that and demonstrates your ignorance about PED usage that you would think they're some giant scary black hole of unknown drug effects. Regarding regulation, I am not sure why you think they would be impossible to regulate. Could you give reasons why they would be any more impossible to regulate than any other pharmaceutical?

There are some really interesting and complicated debates to be had regarding the legalization of PED usage in amateur and professional sports. These debates cannot be had when people choose to engage in ignorant fear-mongering.
posted by schroedinger at 10:10 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think they should make prosthetic limbs mandatory for Olympic competition.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:10 PM on July 4, 2012


schroedinger: If performance-enhancing drug use was anything like Ben Affleck portrayed it to be in his Very Special Made-For-TV Movie on steroid use, this would be the case. But in general the people giving athletes pharmaceuticals are in the business of making sure those athletes can perform to their top capabilities, not "ride a knife edge" while "hoping [they're] one of the lucky ones". Are PEDs harmful if taken in large quantities with no regards to dosing structure, cycling, and in total ignorance of their proper use? Yes, same as aspirin, anti-psychotics, and asthma inhalers. But under medical supervision--and nearly all top athletes take them under medical supervision--they provide far more help than harm.

It depends on the drug. Erythropoeitin is a big problem in cycling and used to be even worse, to the point where major cyclists were occasionally randomly dropping dead during competitions. The effect of the drug is inherently dangerous to a healthy person - having too many red blood cells increases the risk of stroke and other life-threatening conditions. Smaller increases are safer, but larger ones increase performance more.

While I'm sure lots of people are still using it now (probably the entire upper echelon of cycling is dirty at this point) testing makes them use less of it, which makes it less dangerous. If the rules were discarded, EPO is definitely a case where you'd end up with a race to the bottom, with everyone using more and more to stay competitive until the risk of sudden death was high enough to start to deter people. You'd inevitably end up on that knife edge because anyone who didn't go there wouldn't be able to compete with those who did.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:40 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Totally. What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?

Well I guess that would be their decision, and their doctor would have to go along with it. But its extremely unlikely an athlete is ever going to do this, vanishingly unlikely. The risks are far too high, the side effects too much.
posted by fshgrl at 11:09 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good point Mitrovarr, I hadn't thought of EPO. I was thinking more about the anabolic side of things, where there are consequences to abuse but abuse is unnecessary 99.9% of the time to achieve the desired effects (and often counterproductive).
posted by schroedinger at 11:14 PM on July 4, 2012


What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?

I've watched enough TV to know that the doctors would refuse, declaring the patient insane, and the patient would happen upon a chainsaw in the ER and attempt it himself, disastrously, thereby necessitating more drastic, un-augmentable amputation.
posted by acidic at 11:39 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


He is the role model and a person who gave a vision and courage for disable to find the place in the society. Hope he do well and this can be a easier way to him.
posted by makshi99 at 11:46 PM on July 4, 2012



Totally. What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?


Oh how I loved this show as a kid.
posted by readyfreddy at 1:15 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sport is a branch of showbiz now; the only question is whether the audience wants to see Pistorius. I think they do.

Give it twenty years, you probably won't be allowed into the Olympics unless you have a backstory or some kind of angle.

By then I'll probably love it and will be going on about how great it is that the thing raises awareness of real issues these days instead of just giving out medals for running.
posted by Segundus at 1:47 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


What if an otherwise healthy athlete decided to replace a fully functioning limb with an augment that gave an advantage?

How about a third leg?
posted by colie at 2:43 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Barclays getting caught; the Higgs Boson; Pretorius being allowed to run. Finally the good-news cannon seems to have come back on line.
posted by Hogshead at 3:14 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's going to be pretty dispiriting for pretty much all the athletes in that sport if he goes out and sets a bunch of records that no normal-bodied runner can ever beat.

The NPR report on this issue this morning mentioned that Pistorious has actually been using these specific blades for 7 years, and over that time, his personal-best times have improved. Which means that the blades may be one thing, but the body operating the legs is another thing; and that's true of any other athlete who has feet instead of blades.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:07 AM on July 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pistorius is a great athlete and an inspirational human being, but unless all athletes are allowed to affix springy blades to their feet this violates everything sport, and especially Olympic sport, is supposed to be about.
I hate the damage technology, pharmaceuticals, and money have done to athletics, and this is a huge step backward.
posted by rocket88 at 5:15 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pistorius is a great athlete and an inspirational human being, but unless all athletes are allowed to affix springy blades to their feet this violates everything sport, and especially Olympic sport, is supposed to be about.

Pistorious isn't affixing springy blades to his feet. He is using springy blades in place of missing feet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:29 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pistorius is a great athlete and an inspirational human being, but unless all athletes are allowed to affix springy blades to their feet this violates everything sport, and especially Olympic sport, is supposed to be about.

I hate the damage technology, pharmaceuticals, and money have done to athletics, and this is a huge step backward.


First off, he doesn't have feet, and second, have you followed shoe technology over the past 50 years? You don't think Usain Bolt gains a competitive advantage over previous record holders by having significantly lighter and more effective shoes than his predecessors? How about bi-athletes who have access to lighter, more accurate equipment? Hockey players with carbon-fibre sticks which generate more power at less weight than their predecessors? Do you think chariot racing was more about the effectiveness of the rider or the quality and technology of the chariot? I'd argue it was both, as it always has been.

Sport advancement has been around since the dawn of sport; we can argue about where the line belongs, but the idea that the originally Olympics were money-free, technology-neutral and drug-free is a revision of history. The origins of the word doping trace back to the original Greek athletes and their use of opium to aid their performance. It's been a part of the Games as long as the Games has existed...we just know more about it now than we did then.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:48 AM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Usain Bolt doesn't race against previous record holders. The runners he competes against have access to essentially the same shoe technology he does.
posted by rocket88 at 6:04 AM on July 5, 2012


So what are you saying, rocket? That Pistorius should take the blades off and run on his stumps?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 AM on July 5, 2012


Pistorius' personal best in the 400m would be 45.61 (.pdf) This is the world record list for the 400m. His personal best would beat the record set by Lou Jones in 1955. It wouldn't even come close to that of Michael Johnson, set in 1999 and still unbroken.
posted by rtha at 6:26 AM on July 5, 2012


My best friend's dad not only is an authority on prosthetics, specifically feet and legs, but also is himself a BK (below-knee) amputee and former world record holder in shot put and discus. He last competed in Seoul in '88, and was the US Paralympic team prosthetist in Barcelona in '92. I remember him talking about how certain double BK amputees were "stretching the rules" at the time in the races, because they were using prosthetics that improved on the natural motion of the foot and ankle. In essence, they were running much higher up on their "toes", and artificially lengthening their stride, while actually not having to move as much mass, as the prosthetic weighed less than its fleshy counterpart.

Jim's in his 60's now, and he still isn't any more "handicapped" than I am, for the record.

Still very impressed that an amputee gets to represent his country in the Olympics. He's not fast enough to win, but to just get to run is enough for me.
posted by rhythim at 6:30 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what are you saying, rocket? That Pistorius should take the blades off and run on his stumps?

Of course not. I'm saying the race should be as equal and fair to all competitors as is reasonably possible, and Pistorius's springy blades are an advantage not available to the other competitors. The equipment he uses is a significant enough factor that it should warrant a different class of race. Since the Olympics doesn't currently have a separate class for running on spring blades he shouldn't be eligible for the 400m.
posted by rocket88 at 7:12 AM on July 5, 2012


Of course not. I'm saying the race should be as equal and fair to all competitors as is reasonably possible, and Pistorius's springy blades are an advantage not available to the other competitors. The equipment he uses is a significant enough factor that it should warrant a different class of race.

The statistics Rhythim quotes above seem to disprove that he has an "advantage", as he's still coming in about somewhere in the middle in terms of everyone's personal best records.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on July 5, 2012


This tech may give a disabled runner an advantage at some point in the future. Currently, it does not give Pistorius one. The numbers tell that story very clearly.
posted by rtha at 7:22 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The statistics Rhythim quotes above seem to disprove that he has an "advantage"...

No, it doesn't. The statistics prove that Pistorius, using the blades, is not better than any un-augmented olympic record holder from the past. But, we have no way of knowing whether Pistorius, without the blades (and with legs) would even be close to an Olympic-level runner. It's entirely possible that he's an average athlete (or even above average, but not Olympic-level athlete) being buoyed up by the technology.

We obviously have no way to find out, since we can't compare him with legs versus blades. But the statistics quoted thus far are not in any way proof that the blades are not giving an advantage.
posted by tocts at 7:26 AM on July 5, 2012


[Anecdata derail!] Jim Mastro was a blind Paralympian in Judo, but also was an alternate on the sighted Greco-Roman team a couple of times. The man is built like a brick warehouse (an outhouse is too small). For his fundraisers, he used to do pushups for an hour. His personal best was about 1000, I think. He once tossed me with a te guruma, minus the left hand in the pictre. It was incredible.
Does anyone else know people/have interesting stores of people have pushed beyond the 'handicapped' label to compete with fully functional folks in sport?[/derail]u
posted by mfu at 7:27 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The statistics prove that Pistorius, using the blades, is not better than any un-augmented olympic record holder from the past. But, we have no way of knowing whether Pistorius, without the blades (and with legs) would even be close to an Olympic-level runner. It's entirely possible that he's an average athlete (or even above average, but not Olympic-level athlete) being buoyed up by the technology.

I don't think the IOCC considers statistics from alternate universes when it is evaluating whether an athelete can qualify in a given field. All they can do is look at the statistics from this universe, and in this universe, based on the personal best times, Pistorius is not demonstrating an unusual advantage over other athletes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, we have no way of knowing whether Pistorius, without the blades (and with legs) would even be close to an Olympic-level runner. It's entirely possible that he's an average athlete (or even above average, but not Olympic-level athlete) being buoyed up by the technology.

If this were the case, wouldn't there then be many other "above-average, but not Olympic-level" amputees burning up the track in prosthetics?
posted by BrashTech at 7:42 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Pistorius is not the best runner in the world should be irrelevant to the question whether the blades give him an unfair advantage. If I gobbled up a ton of steroids, I would still not win any gold medals, but it would be unfair to every single person I did beat out.

I'm not opposed to it on principle, but they should really set up clear physical limitations on what equipment is allowed there.

For instance, since the blades are significantly lighter than any natural runners legs, weights should be added. Make it a global role: Runners whose legs weigh less than X per unit of height need to make up the difference. That would not stop him from competing, just from gaining one particular advantage that no one else can get no matter how hard they train.
posted by Cironian at 7:52 AM on July 5, 2012


The bloggers at The Science of Sport have written a lot about Oscar Pistorius and whether his blades confer an advantage. They state upfront that they believe the blades do provide an advantage, and they have problems with how the debate about this has played out, but there's tons of graphs and data and links to some of the published papers on there if you want to dig into it some more.
posted by penguinliz at 7:57 AM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


If I gobbled up a ton of steroids, I would still not win any gold medals, but it would be unfair to every single person I did beat out.

Apples and oranges - removing the steroids from you would only diminish your time a bit. Removing the blades from Pistorious would render him incapable of running at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on July 5, 2012


A couple of points.

This is not the start of the slippery slope, my understanding is that competitors for Olympic gold are allowed to use glasses to improve their vision. Cricketers and others wear glasses that reduce glare and help them to see more clearly to make contributions to their teams winning. This is clearly an augmentation but is allowed and are allowances which we all seem to be comfortable as a result of our familiarity with them.

If Pistorius instead wanted to use a wheelchair to do a marathon then he would (i) not be able to compete in the marathon for those who can run on their own legs (ii) go much quicker than those who run in that marathon. The wheelchair option is clearly defined as being a different event. Why would someone with Pistorius' type legs be allowed to compete on the same platform but not someone in a wheelchair?

The key difference seems to be that regulation of these sports has moved in a particular way. Is anything but sentiment over the individual concerned here changing this debate?

What will the future be for cyborgs? Early stage bionic eyes are already available, where will they end up?
posted by biffa at 8:00 AM on July 5, 2012


It seems that those who insist that Olympic sports be restricted only to the smallest possible set of competitors most often present arguments that beg the question --

"We must restrict who can compete."
"Why?"
"To protect the integrity of the sport."

Isn't this simply re-framing the premise of the argument, but with a rhetorical use of an emotionally loaded vocabulary ("protect," "integrity,", "defend," "fairness," et c. -- is this perhaps an if-by-whiskey fallacy?)?

There are certain other arguments that are presented; one of the more frequent is a caution of the threat of the slippery slope that permissiveness will allow. Slippery slope arguments are a conditional fallacy in logic -- there is no reason to assume that by allowing some particular competitor to participate, future officials will lose all sense of reason and permit the entry of Xenomorph sprinters with mini-gun knees.

There's another logical fallacy in the arguments against inclusion, but I've forgotten it because one of my coworkers has had the temerity to interrupt me with actual work. Please consider this note a marginalium indicating that I have discovered a brilliant counter-argument to all those who wish to restrict participation in athletics, but have not the space\time here to illuminate it.

I think that an appeal to fairness is often misapplied here. Is it fair to Pistorius, among others, to compete with prostheses that improve his performance beyond what he might otherwise be capable of? I think it is, given the hardship he suffers. I had a hard time going jogging yesterday because it was hot outside, and my legs work fine. How do we ensure fairness in competition in the first place? Enforce a mandatory minimum standard of living, access to health care and nutrition, to pre- and post-natal care for the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of all athletes? Provide training facilities at altitude or with controlled oxygen concentration? I would love it if we could; I think it would be wonderful if we ensured those things to all people.

In the debate on gender testing, I can only offer my opinion: that I would rather the supposed integrity of athletics (and anyone who has ever participated in any kind of sports knows that there's only integrity when the official is watching) collapse completely rather than attack someone's identity. The world record for men's 100m is 9.58s, held by Usain Bolt; Florence Griffith-Joyner holds the corresponding women's world record of 10.49 seconds. If someone were to break either of those records, changing only the third (for men's) or fourth (for the women's record) significant digit, I do not think we can say that such an athlete had an unfair advantage.
posted by samofidelis at 8:17 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We must restrict who can compete."

Nobody said this. Who are you arguing against?
posted by rocket88 at 8:30 AM on July 5, 2012


... and in this universe, based on the personal best times, Pistorius is not demonstrating an unusual advantage over other athletes.

Again, that is not something we actually can know. It has nothing to do with "alternate universes". Pistorius is using equipment that other runners cannot use. He also cannot not use that equipment. That does not change the fact that the equipment may nonetheless be giving him an advantage. All other things being equal, the blades may in fact be making him perform better than he could otherwise have done with legs, even if he isn't breaking world records.

If this were the case, wouldn't there then be many other "above-average, but not Olympic-level" amputees burning up the track in prosthetics?

There are quite literally billions of people who have two functioning legs that could attempt to compete as runners. That enormous pool is whittled down to an infinitesimal fraction of a percent at the Olympics -- for a given event, it can hardly be counted in dozens.

In the meantime, the number of people who are leg amputees is also a fraction of a percent -- some quick googling shows that in the U.S. at least, it's estimated 1 in 200 people are amputees of any type (I'm not seeing quick numbers on just leg amputees).

It is entirely possible that we simply have not yet seen an intersection of these two very small portions of the population. There's far too small a sample size to be able to say that the fact that nobody has shown up and completely dominated with the blades is proof that they aren't an advantage.
posted by tocts at 8:39 AM on July 5, 2012


It has nothing to do with "alternate universes". Pistorius is using equipment that other runners cannot use.

Yes, but the other runners are also using equipment that Pistorious cannot use (i.e., legs and feet).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:47 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


rocket88 --

If you do not wish to permit some persons from participating in an event, you have chosen to restrict who can compete in that event. I think it is impossible for you to argue that you do not wish to restrict who can participate in this event; your previous remarks seem to suggest that you think the presence of an alternative athletic contest should suffice, but I don't want to put words in your mouth.

I don't want to muddy the point by returning to the gender testing issue, so perhaps we can agree to consider the two issues separately for now? If you or others think the two need to be simultaneously addressed, we can certainly choose to do so instead.

I looked up thread, and found this comment:
Pistorius is a great athlete and an inspirational human being, but unless all athletes are allowed to affix springy blades to their feet this violates everything sport, and especially Olympic sport, is supposed to be about.
I hate the damage technology, pharmaceuticals, and money have done to athletics, and this is a huge step backward.
posted by rocket88 at 7:15 on July 5 [1 favorite +] [!]
So, is it fair to say you would argue that permitting Pistorius to compete in this event would be to violate the codes that define the competition? To avoid violating those codes, you must prevent him from participating. Thus, you have restricted who can compete. So, to answer your question, I am arguing with you and your position. Certainly, some of the subtlety may be lost in condensation, but I don't think I misrepresented the implications of what you've said; if so, I apologize and I'll certainly listen to your arguments.

And there is also this comment:
"So what are you saying, rocket? That Pistorius should take the blades off and run on his stumps?"

Of course not. I'm saying the race should be as equal and fair to all competitors as is reasonably possible, and Pistorius's springy blades are an advantage not available to the other competitors. The equipment he uses is a significant enough factor that it should warrant a different class of race. Since the Olympics doesn't currently have a separate class for running on spring blades he shouldn't be eligible for the 400m.
posted by rocket88 at 9:12 on July 5 [+] [!]
Please note that I added the quotation marks around the first sentence in the second quote, to distinguish the remarks of another commenter to whom you were responding.

Here, I think you are implicitly arguing that there is another athletics contest in which Pistorius can compete, and he should be satisfied with that. But why should he be forbidden from participating in the Olympics? Because the blades represent to great an advantage. How do we know they represent too great an advantage? Because you have said that they do. I would counter that the effect of pre- and post-natal care for mothers for the prior two generations has been shown to have a significant effect on the health of an individual (i.e., your mother's, and your mother's mother's health care before, during, and after they gave birth), with specific consequences for height. Since height is often a characteristic of top athletes, we must ensure that there is fairness in competition by restricting those who can compete only to those whose parents and grandparents enjoyed a certain, specific level of healthcare.

What is my point? That I do not think we can reasonably say yet what are and what are not unfair advantages. There are too few athletes who have risen to the Olympic level to provide us with sound statistics. If we find, in some time, that competition has come to be dominated by those with prostheses, perhaps then we should consider changing the rules. Until then, I do not think that we should do so.

To return to your prior remark again,
Pistorius is a great athlete and an inspirational human being, but unless all athletes are allowed to affix springy blades to their feet this violates everything sport, and especially Olympic sport, is supposed to be about.
I hate the damage technology, pharmaceuticals, and money have done to athletics, and this is a huge step backward.
posted by rocket88 at 7:15 on July 5 [1 favorite +] [!]
it appears clear to me that you feel that Pistorius's prostheses damage the integrity of the sport. The rest of the world is not obligated to share your opinion of what does and does not damage the integrity of athletics. If we're going to vote on this, my vote will cancel yours, and we will have to examine the opinion of every one else before we can make a decision. Of course, I do not think that we should vote on this, because this is one of those issues where I am more concerned with protecting the rights of a small number of persons from the wishes of the larger fraction. To be fair, I'm more likely to think that, given that such an argument strengthens my own and plays to my biases.
posted by samofidelis at 8:50 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Removing the blades from Pistorious would render him incapable of running at all.

Removing them without any replacement, yes. But there were also pre-blades prosthetics, of which many suck big time but no one ever argued that those gave any unfair advantage. Because they clearly don't. While this particular type of prosthesis might. Just like runners may use shoes, but not every technological trick is allowed to be built into running shoes.

Which is why the rest of my post focused on finding the point where a prosthesis offers plain parity with the performance of the missing body part and then just allowing that, but no more.
posted by Cironian at 9:00 AM on July 5, 2012


I say let him run for now. If he ever gets too good, then just disqualify him at that point.
posted by snofoam at 9:17 AM on July 5, 2012


The people who are casually dismissing the idea that there might be legitimate reasons under the rules not to allow Pistorius to compete in the events as they currently exist are being a little too quick, I think.

Yes, the other racers can use legs and feet, which Pistorius cannot, and Pistorius can use the "Cheetah Flex-Foot", which other racers cannot. But that kind of seems to imply that they're running in two different sports, not that they are therefore equal.

And maybe Pistorius isn't (currently) breaking any records ... so do we wait until someone does and then try to deal with it after the fact, or try to figure out the best way to structure things beforehand?
In fact, scientific testing has shown that Pistorius's limbs use 25% less energy than runners with complete natural legs to run at the same speed, and that they lead to less vertical motion combined with 30% less mechanical work for lifting the body, leading the scientist running the tests to say that Pistorius "has considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs who were tested by us. It was more than just a few percentage points. I did not expect it to be so clear." This led to a decision by the IAAF to rule that Pistorius's prostheses were ineligible for use in competitions conducted under the IAAF rules.

At that point, Pistorius employed the services of a law firm to challenge the ruling, and took part in a series of further tests. His appeal was upheld on the grounds that the original tests did not consider the disadvantages that Oscar faces. So he is currently eligible to compete.

But I'd hardly say that it's cut and dried at the moment.
posted by kyrademon at 9:19 AM on July 5, 2012


In fact, scientific testing has shown that Pistorius's limbs use 25% less energy than runners with complete natural legs to run at the same speed, and that they lead to less vertical motion combined with 30% less mechanical work for lifting the body....

....And yet, when you look at the data comparing athletes' personal best times, Pistorious was about average.

I mean, yeah, he came ahead of some other guys, but so did people who weren't using Cheetah Flex-foot prostheses, so I'm not sure why we're subjecting Pistorious' tools to public inquiry and overlooking Michael Johnson's gold sneakers.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on July 5, 2012


EmpressCallipygos: ....And yet, when you look at the data comparing athletes' personal best times, Pistorious was about average.

With such a small sample set, it's really hard to know if we're looking at a great athlete with no special advantages (or even a disadvantage), or merely an above-average one with a huge advantage that allows him to compete out of his natural bracket. Which is why the biomechanical testing is probably more valuable than just looking at his times.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:30 AM on July 5, 2012


"....And yet, when you look at the data comparing athletes' personal best times, Pistorious was about average."

I'm really not seeing the point of this argument. If you gave me a bicycle, I'd probably come in about average in these races. That doesn't mean I should be allowed to race on a bicycle just because I still wouldn't necessarily win.

"... overlooking Michael Johnson's gold sneakers."

A rule that stated that all runners were allowed to use only certain kinds of footwear seems perfectly sensible to me, if you think one should be instituted.
posted by kyrademon at 9:31 AM on July 5, 2012


So let's assume (and it's an unlikely assumption) that the Cheetah Flex-Foot offers no advantage to the runner, and that it's exactly the same as able-bodied runners with the best available shoes.
Does he get to improve his prosthetics as technology advances? What if the next generation of Flex-Foot allows him ten-foot strides and suddenly improves Pistorius's times to smashing all world records by insurmountable margins? Where do we draw the line between unfair advantage and reasonable accommodation of his abilities?
And samofidelis, I'm not advocating restricting who is eligible, but what equipment is eligible. If carbon-fiber springs are allowed they must be allowed for all competitors. That wouldn't exclude Pistorius at all, would it?
posted by rocket88 at 9:39 AM on July 5, 2012


I'm really not seeing the point of this argument. If you gave me a bicycle, I'd probably come in about average in these races. That doesn't mean I should be allowed to race on a bicycle just because I still wouldn't necessarily win.

Giving you a bicycle and sending you out to race these athletes on foot would only be analagous to Pistorious' situation if we cut your legs off first. How do you think you'd do then?

The point I'm trying to make with the "but he's coming in average" question is that even though the prosthesis in question may give the individual Oscar Pistorious a 20% increase in what his time would be if he had feet, it still seems to be an open question whether the individual Oscar Pistorious' time would be better than all other athlete's times. A foot race is not only a test of the feet alone -- it is a test of the overall fitness, quality of training, and mental will of the athlete.

So yes, Oscar Pistorious with the prosthesis is running 20% faster than Oscar Pistorious would have done without it. But that 20% does not seem to be enough to definitively prove he would beat every other athlete, otherwise Pistorious' time would be markedly higher than every other athlete's.

It's arguable that one coach's training regimen is 20% more effective than another coach's, and another athlete's uniform is 20% more effective at reducing wind resistance than other's uniforms, or one type of diet is 20% more nutritious than another athlete's, or whatever. Each of the individual athletes is the sum product of a whole host of strengths and weaknesses, and advantages offset by disadvantages; but it is the sum total of those various strengths and weaknesses that runs the race, and the sum total of those strengths and weaknesses that we judge by.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: So yes, Oscar Pistorious with the prosthesis is running 20% faster than Oscar Pistorious would have done without it. But that 20% does not seem to be enough to definitively prove he would beat every other athlete, otherwise Pistorious' time would be markedly higher than every other athlete's.

Well, the point we're trying to make is that if the prosthesis makes Oscar Pistorious 20% faster than he'd be on legs, it doesn't matter if he personally isn't blowing away the top-level competition. First of all, it isn't really fair to the people he is beating. More importantly, however, later on you will get someone who would be a top-level runner without the blades, and they will use them, and that guy will be fundamentally unbeatable by any non-augmented runner.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2012


There are advantages and then there are legislated advantages. Training and coaching and shoes make a difference for sure, but there are no rules disallowing other competitors from access to them.
posted by rocket88 at 9:55 AM on July 5, 2012


"Giving you a bicycle and sending you out to race these athletes on foot would only be analagous to Pistorious' situation if we cut your legs off first. How do you think you'd do then?"

Still pretty good, if it was the kind I could use my hands to pedal. And I'm still not racing the same kind of race as anyone else, even in that apparently more analogous situation.

So what isn't allowed, if you have no legs? Hand-pedaled bicycle? Jet packs? Race cars? Surely you draw the line somewhere, right?

"So yes, Oscar Pistorious with the prosthesis is running 20% faster than Oscar Pistorious would have done without it."

And when that becomes 40%? 90%? 120%? 3,000%? What point does it start to make a difference to you? Ever?

"It's arguable that one coach's training regimen is 20% more effective than another coach's ..."

Sure, there are strengths and weaknesses such as coaching and diet and what have you, but there's a point where you're no longer playing the same game under the same rules as the other competitors anymore. I think asking whether Pistorius crosses that line is a fair question that shouldn't be blithely dismissed.
posted by kyrademon at 9:57 AM on July 5, 2012


Does he get to improve his prosthetics as technology advances? What if the next generation of Flex-Foot allows him ten-foot strides and suddenly improves Pistorius's times to smashing all world records by insurmountable margins?

Then he sets lots of records. In the longer term, it might be the case that someone could only compete at the highest levels of running if they were a genetic freak who was born partially legless and who trained very hard from early childhood.

But the highest levels of running are already limited to genetic freaks who have trained very hard from childhood. I can't see any good reason why effectively limiting competition to genetic freaks who happen to look like most people is any better than effectively limiting it to genetic freaks who don't.

I get that at some level it wouldn't be "fair" to people who have to cart around whole calves instead of carbon-fiber springs. But it's already not fair. Not fair to people who weren't born with freakish metabolisms. Not fair to people who weren't born with freakish muscle-fiber mixes and freakish healing responses and so on. I can't see why this additional layer of unfairness matters to an outside observer, though of course I get why the crop of people who are currently advantaged object to it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


And when that becomes 40%? 90%? 120%? 3,000%? What point does it start to make a difference to you? Ever?

You don't even have to speculate -- there are already real life examples to point to.

For example, here's a serious question for EmpressCallipygos: what about marathons?

The best time ever recorded for a runner in the Boston Marathon is 2:11:04. But, the best time ever recorded for a person in a wheelchair on the same course is 1:18:25. That's not just a minor difference -- we're talking a reduction in time of almost 40%.

In the upcoming Olympics, there is to be a marathon event. By your standards, should wheelchair-using paraplegics be able to compete alongside the runners, and be considered to be competing in the same event? After all, a person with no use of their legs cannot run the marathon on their own, but can navigate the same course by using a wheelchair. Is it not just as unfair to say they can't compete with able-bodied runners as it is to say that Pistorius can't? If not, why is it any different? Where is the line?
posted by tocts at 10:19 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


First of all, it isn't really fair to the people he is beating.

By that logic, we should also disqualify all First-World athletes from competing against Third-World athletes for having better training (after all, US athlete's superior training isn't fair to athletes from nations like, say, Kuala Lampur where the training isn't as good). Where do we draw that line?

More importantly, however, later on you will get someone who would be a top-level runner without the blades, and they will use them, and that guy will be fundamentally unbeatable by any non-augmented runner.

But the only way that someone who's a top-level runner without the blades could end up using the blades is if he lost his legs first. Do you really think someone's going to take that step? And even if this does happen by some freakish coincidence, since he already was a top-level runner without the blades, how is it that the blades is negating the expertiese he already had?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:19 AM on July 5, 2012


There are advantages and then there are legislated advantages. Training and coaching and shoes make a difference for sure, but there are no rules disallowing other competitors from access to them.
posted by rocket88 at 11:55 on July 5 [+] [!]
I just want to acknowledge that this is a fair point.
posted by samofidelis at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2012


Pop quiz! Can you distinguish these two scenarios?

1. An Olympics modeled after the Harrison Bergeron dystopia, where no advantages of any sort are allowed.

2. A rule that says assistive technology that grants a measurable advantage over normal-bodied individuals is only permitted in Paralympic competitions.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:30 AM on July 5, 2012


Sure, there are strengths and weaknesses such as coaching and diet and what have you, but there's a point where you're no longer playing the same game under the same rules as the other competitors anymore. I think asking whether Pistorius crosses that line is a fair question that shouldn't be blithely dismissed.

Where do you get the impression that the IOCC "blithely dismissed it," though? As rociet says above, there are advantages and then there are legislated advantages, and the IOCC is the one who does that legislating. And it sounds like they made up their mind on it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on July 5, 2012


the highest levels of running are already limited to genetic freaks who have trained very hard from childhood

No, they're not. You and I are more than welcome to enter a qualifying race and compete equally against the genetic freaks.

You seem to think fairness requires equality of results instead of just equality of opportunity. I personally don't consider it unfair that I don't have the genetics to excel at top levels of the sports I love. But there are classes and divisions of those sports where I'm competitive and I'm happy to participate at that level.
Remember, one of the outcomes I'd be happy with is allowing carbon fiber springs for all competitors, which wouldn't restrict Pistorius from competing. It would be a different event from the current 400m sprint, but I'm okay with giving it Olympic medal status.
posted by rocket88 at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2012


But under medical supervision--and nearly all top athletes take them under medical supervision--they provide far more help than harm.... ...if someone insists on doing high levels of test for years and years non-stop, of course there will be consequences. But that is a pretty clear, blatant misuse of the drug,

The suggestion that this would be unusual if drugs were OK sounds incredibly naive. Even in a completely drug-free event, I've gone up against an athlete who I knew had been told point blank by his doctor that he needed to pull out, and that if he did that event with that injury he had, he was risking becoming crippled for life. He entered anyway, because he had poured his life into this one moment, and you can't just switch that off because your doctor tells you too. Or look at Olympic weightlifting - many of those guys just will not stop until their bones literally shatter.

You can point to athletes who would follow their doctor to the milligram on PED, even if it meant losing an event they had been working up to for years, but those people aren't the reason the rule is there. Many people who dedicate their life for something, you don't slow yourself down just because a doctor is getting worried. You don't slow down until you hit the wall and shatter.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:38 AM on July 5, 2012


You seem to think fairness requires equality of results instead of just equality of opportunity.

No, I just recognize that there is no equality of opportunity here, any more than there exists any meaningful equality of opportunity in educational or economic settings. Too much of ability-to-succeed is set merely by virtue of who your parents are for there to be any.

I personally don't consider it unfair that I don't have the genetics to excel at top levels of the sports I love.

Okay. Why are you okay with not being able to excel because you don't have the right muscle fibers or lung capacity or blood chemistry, but not okay with being unable to excel because you were born with all of your limbs and have never suffered a horrific accident?

But there are classes and divisions of those sports where I'm competitive and I'm happy to participate at that level.

Right. And if we extrapolate out, it's possible that only people born partially limbless or who suffered horrific accidents as children would be competitive at the very highest levels, and that people who would now be highly competitive at those levels would be relegated to lower classes or divisions. I just don't see anything wrong with that.

one of the outcomes I'd be happy with is allowing carbon fiber springs for all competitors, which wouldn't restrict Pistorius from competing

That's fine with me too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:56 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course not. I'm saying the race should be as equal and fair to all competitors as is reasonably possible, and Pistorius's springy blades are an advantage not available to the other competitors.

I don't agree. Equal and fair to all is the Paralympics, with its handicap systems and evaluations of disadvantages. The spirit of the Olympic games by contrast (to me at least) is simply who is the greatest at doing XYZ. You might need the right genetics, the right upbringing, the right funding, the right everything to be the best, none of that is fair or equal, but the only thing that matters is, are you currently faster/further/stronger/whatever?

(The Olympic committee doesn't always agree with me, but their priorities also include things like making money, spectactor spectacle, etc. :-) )

When he runs on these blades, our word for it is "running", he's not coasting, or cycling, or sliding, or hopping, he's running. Everyone naturally and without prompting uses that word to categorize his method of locomotion. (And it wouldn't surprise me if this extended beyond just English speakers)
So if we have a running race, he gets to join in. If that's not fair, the able-bodied can petition for an able-bodied-only category in the Paraolympics and race there.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:58 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


That said, world records etc are used in (at least) two ways - what is the best that has ever been, and to compare athletes that never directly competed. When a component of the time record is from the era the athlete lived in, due to technology available at that time, comparisons are difficult, if not meaningless.
It might be interesting to have a third kind of event, one that attempts to remove all factors other than the athlete, for posterity (and research). But that's one of those easier said than done affairs :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 11:09 AM on July 5, 2012


-harlequin-: When he runs on these blades, our word for it is "running", he's not coasting, or cycling, or sliding, or hopping, he's running. Everyone naturally and without prompting uses that word to categorize his method of locomotion. (And it wouldn't surprise me if this extended beyond just English speakers)
So if we have a running race, he gets to join in.


That's not quite the criterion they use when they decide what is legal in competition for most sports. Lots of things - safety, the wishes of current competitors, spectator appeal, long-term effects on the sport, etc. are all taken into account. For instance, in cycling, you can't use recumbent bicycles, you can't use fairings, you can't use aero bars (for most forms of competition), and you can't modify the frame design too much. Even some riding stances are against the rules. Nobody would ever suggest that riding a bicycle with aero bars isn't cycling.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:04 PM on July 5, 2012


The suggestion that this would be unusual if drugs were OK sounds incredibly naive. Even in a completely drug-free event, I've gone up against an athlete who I knew had been told point blank by his doctor that he needed to pull out, and that if he did that event with that injury he had, he was risking becoming crippled for life. He entered anyway, because he had poured his life into this one moment, and you can't just switch that off because your doctor tells you too.

I'm sorry, but this is total fear-mongering. You are approaching PED use like it's heroin, and it simply isn't. Again, I ask, do you have any experience or knowledge about PED use or are you just pulling this stuff out of your ass? What, are you imagining this scenario where the doc is like "I'll only give you this much, but no more" and the athlete goes "BUT DOC I GOTTA WIN" and injects himself with a liter of test? That is not how steroids work! They require continuous, measured dosing over long periods of time to see effects, and anyone who would approach it using the "Inject a liter of test all at once" route is analagous to someone who decides to down an entire bottle of aspirin to cure an headache. That is, anyone who knows how aspirin works and has a base familiarity with its effects would not do that unless they were a raving suicidal idiot, and no amount of desperation would lead to that situation. Seriously, I don't think you realize exactly how ignorant you're coming off here from the perspective of someone who knows people who actually take PEDs for competitive advantage.

Or look at Olympic weightlifting - many of those guys just will not stop until their bones literally shatter.

And this is where you prove you are an idiot and have no experience with lifting whatsoever, because this does not actually happen and this is not how lifting weights works. Nobody "keeps going until their bones literally shatter". You are not able to lift weights that make your bones shatter unless somebody is literally dropping them onto your bones and you are just lying there waiting for them to hit. The worst weightlifting accidents are stuff like that guy who dislocated his elbow in 2008, and that was not due to him pushing himself too hard, that was a freak accident due to catching the weight in a poor position. Weightlifting actually has one of the lowest injury rates of any sport.

Seriously, please, you need to do some basic-level research before you start spouting off your hysterical claims.
posted by schroedinger at 4:10 PM on July 5, 2012


normal-bodied individuals

I realise you certainly didn't intend it this way, but blithely tossing around a term like that is pretty fucked up and brings a whole lot of issues with it. I think it's actually kinda revealing about a lot of the thinking behind those who would exclude Pistorious to the paralympics.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, it wasn't intended to be offensive; I couldn't come up with a preferred version of the term, so I used something I thought would be unlikely to result in misunderstanding. What is the preferred expression?
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:45 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"People without disabilities", I think, is current usage - the euphemism treadmill is at work. (Without digressing too much, the idea is that neutral terms used to describe marginalised populations eventually assume stigma, so we have to keep coming up with new terms because the old terms pick up negative connotations.)
The term "temporarily able-bodied" is used, too, but it's pretty pointed - it's intended to underscore the fact that nearly all of us acquire disabilities as we age, and is probably of limited relevance when we're talking about the athletically gifted, who are already assumed to lose their gifts as they age.
posted by gingerest at 11:08 PM on July 5, 2012


Most people use "able-bodied" to contrast with "disabled" but on preview, yeah, gingerest is right - this usage is constantly being nuanced and adjusted as time passes.

And of course we haven't debated whether an able-bodied person like Monique Van der Vost (whose disability experienced a reversal) should have been allowed to continue competing in the Paralympics (she didn't and is training for the able-bodied version of her sport now).

Me personally, I'm blown away by the human body, science, and the level of discipline required to be the physical best at anything in the world, even if it's a hula-hooping 90-year-old. Kudos to you athletes out there - much respect to those who can push themselves to the limits of human endurance in the name of excellence. Maybe I'm seeing all this through altruistic eyes, but the Olympics is pretty humbling, and these asthmatic lungs guarantee I'll never know anything like that experience myself.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:18 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spiked Online - Pistorius: a hero, yes, but not an Olympian:
That is not the case with Pistorius and his blades, which appear to give him a potential advantage that other athletes cannot replicate. I bow to the scientific expertise of the Sports Engineering department at Sheffield Hallam University, the leading researchers in the field. Dr David James, a senior lecturer there, observes that ‘the blades are made of carbon fibre and have a lower mass than muscle and bone; they are also elastic and allow the runner to “bounce” with little energy cost’.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:43 PM on July 9, 2012


Oscar Pistorius makes history as he finishes second in 400m heat
posted by homunculus at 9:25 AM on August 4, 2012


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