Join 3,559 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Should This Feat With No Feet Be Defeated?
July 16, 2008 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Should Oscar Pistorius be allowed to run with prosthetic blades in the Olympics for South Africa? Current money says maybe.
posted by Xurando (154 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think it would be really cool, but I can see how people who care more about sports than I do would disagree. Once you start letting cyborgs into sports, there's really no limit to how far you can go, and it would never be the same again.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:18 AM on July 16, 2008


Once this camel gets its nose under the tent, what won't be allowed? Motorized wheelchairs?
posted by Daddy-O at 11:21 AM on July 16, 2008


He should be allowed in the Olympics - but only if he races against Batman.
posted by Jofus at 11:21 AM on July 16, 2008 [9 favorites]


This is not a simple issue. On the one hand, he's a technologically augmented human, for the purposes of running. For this particular task, the blades that he has are better than human lower legs. Some people seem to dispute this, but I think it would be hard to dispute that even if they are not presently better, they will be soon, with more engineering.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cut off their own legs to run faster.
posted by demiurge at 11:22 AM on July 16, 2008


He belongs in the paralympics.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:22 AM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Will Batman be able to run in his bat boots?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:23 AM on July 16, 2008


to make it fair everyone should wear blades
posted by yort at 11:23 AM on July 16, 2008


We need cyberolympics.
posted by Artw at 11:26 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pistorius has yet to meet the Olympic qualifying standard in his event. This is a bigger obstacle to participating than what he has on his lower extremities.
posted by grounded at 11:33 AM on July 16, 2008


If I have my lower legs amputated, can I run with prosthetic blades, too? No? Only medically necessary amputations? What if I was drunk driving?
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:34 AM on July 16, 2008


I don't think anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cut off their own legs to run faster.

A prosthetic big toe, on the other hand...
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:36 AM on July 16, 2008


"I don't think anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cut off their own legs to run faster..."

I suspect you are very wrong about that...

This is not a good idea.
posted by HuronBob at 11:39 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. With nail polish.
posted by notsnot at 11:39 AM on July 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


Should Oscar Pistorius be allowed to run with prosthetic blades in the Olympics for South Africa?

No. He belongs in the paralympics. No reason to treat the paralympics as second class sporting event.
posted by three blind mice at 11:40 AM on July 16, 2008


Might this create the scenario where an athlete would remove real limbs for artificial to be a better competitor?
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:41 AM on July 16, 2008


On the other hand, I don't think anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cut off their own legs to run faster.

You wouldn't have to. Just mount the blades on your feet. Not only are you more springy, but you've also got an incredible stride.
posted by DU at 11:45 AM on July 16, 2008


Pistorius has yet to meet the Olympic qualifying standard in his event. This is a bigger obstacle to participating than what he has on his lower extremities.

The NYT article isn't really about that, though. This is about him being invited to run on a relay team.

To me, the official's statement that it's a safety issue seems like a major cop-out.
posted by kingbenny at 11:48 AM on July 16, 2008


We let pitchers play baseball after having Tommy John surgery. How is this really any different?
posted by pjdoland at 11:51 AM on July 16, 2008


No reason to treat the paralympics as second class sporting event.

Quick, how many paralympic medal winners can you name?
posted by 23skidoo at 11:52 AM on July 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


Can a person with contacts participate in the biathlon? Can a person with a pin in their shoulder participate in the discus?

Not that I'm taking a position. Just noting that being a cyborg is a sliding scale.

The first objection is "he's altered beyond the average human range" (if he is). But contact lenses can do the same--at one point, I had 20/15 vision. That's abnormally, but not amazingly, better than usual. Did it make me better than I would have been naturally? Impossible to say.
posted by DU at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Tanni Grey-Thompson
posted by popcassady at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2008


For those wondering... my previous comment was meant to be in answer to 23skidoo's question.
posted by popcassady at 11:55 AM on July 16, 2008


Arguing on the internet is like running in the paralympics. Even if you win, you still have superhuman springy prosthetic legs.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:55 AM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


We let pitchers play baseball after having Tommy John surgery. How is this really any different?

It's pretty different, on the surface anyway. Tommy John surgery doesn't add any major component that wasn't already part of the body.
posted by kingbenny at 11:58 AM on July 16, 2008


If he gets in, I totally want to see Götz von Berlichingen on the German boxing team.
posted by designbot at 11:59 AM on July 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


For those wondering... my previous comment was meant to be in answer to 23skidoo's question.

I'll be less obtuse. I wasn't really asking for paralympic medal winners. I was making the point that however many paralympic medal winners one can name, they can probably name a crapload more Olympic medal winners. The paralympics are already a second-class sporting event because way less people are interested in them. We can all be supportive and crap and cheer and rally and whatnot, but at the end of the day people care more about the Olympics than the paralympics.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:00 PM on July 16, 2008


Can a person with contacts participate in the biathlon? Can a person with a pin in their shoulder participate in the discus?

Right, which is why this whole debate gets absurd rather quickly and why I can't figure out the big hoopla over performance enhancing drugs. So someone can have a strictly regimented diet and train 10 hours a day but can't inject low doses of steroids? Or this guy cannot have prosthetic blades but I don't see any restrictions on lasik surgery for biathlon runners.

I think the "integrity" of the games sort of went away when we had professional athletes carefully training every day of the year. This isn't some farmer putting down his pitchfork to run a marathon when the Olympic games comes around.
posted by geoff. at 12:03 PM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


He does belong in the paralympics. The paralympics should be televised, too. (I feel like we've discussed that topic about 4 years ago. Not finding it though.)
posted by onhazier at 12:06 PM on July 16, 2008


This reminds me: we really need to get on the ball with defining what is human.
posted by oddman at 12:15 PM on July 16, 2008


I love all this non-ironic, non-hypothetical talk of cyborgs and augmented humans. Living in the future rocks.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:20 PM on July 16, 2008 [16 favorites]


I don't think anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cut off their own legs to run faster.


I hereby volunteer myself for the full body cyborg surgery, otherwise known as the "Go, Go, Gadget!" procedure.
posted by chugg at 12:20 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the "integrity" of the games sort of went away when we had professional athletes carefully training every day of the year. This isn't some farmer putting down his pitchfork to run a marathon when the Olympic games comes around.
Like the athletes of today, ancient athletes trained and trained and trained some more. Training was a highly developed art. From early childhood, an athlete trained with a trainer. There were three types of trainers. The paidotribes were physical trainers of athletics for competition; the gymnastes were high paid athletic exercise trainers; and the aleiptes were "anointers" who anointed athletes’ bodies with oil for muscle massages. Trainers’ services were not inexpensive. If an athlete could not afford a trainer, his city paid for one. Athletes arrived in Elis one month prior to the start of the Olympic games, and continued to trained in one of many arenas there.
posted by designbot at 12:21 PM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I could have sworn this guy was already OK'd for the olympics.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:23 PM on July 16, 2008


This isn't some farmer putting down his pitchfork to run a marathon when the Olympic games comes around.

The competitors in the ancient games weren't noble amateurs, you know. They took their sport very seriously, trained regularly and with coaches, and were rewarded handsomely for winning. And the more recent amateurism movements were mainly efforts of the moneyed leisure classes to keep out those distasteful lower classes who actually had to compete for money. The horror!
posted by bepe at 12:25 PM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


He belongs in the regular old Olympics. His competitors are free to suffer horrific accidents if they really want to.

Except they wouldn't need to, because I can't see any good reason why they can't wear whatever shoes it pleases them to wear, including none at all or giant blade things that attach to the calves or clown shoes.

There's little integrity in sports that talk about paying off effort in training, but where you have to be a genetic freak to compete at the world level.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:26 PM on July 16, 2008


I'd like them to just pull out all the stops, combine the Olypmic and Paralympic games, and define "human" as anything that can pass a Turing test and derives its energy from the Krebs cycle.

If you want to saw off your legs, have them replaced with carbon fiber, and shoot up steroids until you look like the Hulk, awesome. It'll make great television. Plus, the medical advancements as a result of that competition will probably have far greater dividends to the general public than current Olympic training techniques do.

I don't get the whole 'sacredness' aspect of athletic competition. Olympic athletes aren't "normal" to begin with, practically by definition — "normal" people cannot run 400 meters in 45.55 seconds, or any of the other things that are used to set Olympic qualification standards.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2008 [14 favorites]


This wouldn't be up for debate if we'd just stuck to the ancient Greek tradition and required that all Olympic athletes compete naked.
posted by grounded at 12:29 PM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't really have a horse (turbocharged car?) in this race, but man - how freaking cool is it that a guy can lose his legs and go on to sprint at a world-class level? That we can make prosthetic legs that are better than biological legs? In this case, "disability" means the exact opposite. Pretty neat.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:43 PM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think we should say that he is allowed as long as he can't qualify and once he or another person with prosthetics can qualify we should take the fact that they qualify as proof that the prosthetics give them an unfair advantage. Wait, that's what's going on. Good.
posted by I Foody at 12:48 PM on July 16, 2008


Here you've got a guy whose body is fundamentally different from those of the other competitors in a way entirely not reproducible by nature. His prostheses don't just restore lost function or repair a damaged part, they change the way the bits work. I don't know if that's a fair competition.

Then again, my only connection to the Olympic games is through the television coverage, which is a notch or two below American Gladiators (the new version, which is two or three fathoms below the original), so I say bring on the cyborgs and chemically-enhanced freaks. Might get me to watch a few minutes.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:53 PM on July 16, 2008


I can't see any good reason why they can't wear whatever shoes it pleases them to wear, including none at all or giant blade things that attach to the calves or clown shoes.

Car? That's not a car. That's my gigantic motorised left shoe.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:59 PM on July 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


If he were breaking records by large margins this wouldn't be a debate, he'd be barred from competing. In light of that, I think the athletic community would be better off barring him up front. Big time sports are goofy.
posted by Shutter at 1:16 PM on July 16, 2008


One thing to consider: if this particular prosthesis is deemed too different from standard human behavior, then what will this do for future disabled athletes? If future developments in surgery are considered too much of an aberration for participation in sanctioned sports events, the number of disabled athletes would dwindle down to exactly zero. Unless there were uber-parents insisting that doctors give their kids outdated surgeries in hopes of future gold medals.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:20 PM on July 16, 2008


What is this guy, your arch-nemesis? Stop being such a heel. He hasn't got a leg up on the competition.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:20 PM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


My question with this when talking about it always amounts to if you allow artificial influence used by a competitor in any form, where / how do you draw the line as to what is acceptable and what is not. Ultimately, this falls under the category of "artificial augmentation", and so does performance enhancing drugs. What exactly is the logical arguement that says one is ok and another is not?
posted by keame at 1:22 PM on July 16, 2008


designbot

The Iron Hand of Götz von Berlichingen is awesome, thanks.

Er kann mich im Arsche lecken!
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:28 PM on July 16, 2008


There has been an Olympic gymnast who competed with a wooden leg, an equestrian who could not use her legs below her knees... the question is if those legs give him a disproportiante advantage, if he is having difficulty in even qualifying my guess is it does not.

There does need to be a line, and it is something the Olympics should settle one way or another. And they should do so while not under the gun of having to decide on the fate of a particular indivdual
posted by edgeways at 1:36 PM on July 16, 2008


What could the possible justification for letting him race be? We go to great lengths to prevent athletes from using performance enhancing drugs -- drugs that merely enhance the performance of one's own natural system and the components it comprises -- but it would somehow be acceptable to replace entire components of that system, wholesale, with artificial substitutes? It's great that the guy has been able to come back and replicate the performance of an elite runner with a couple of prosthetic legs, but it's still just replication.
posted by decoherence at 1:37 PM on July 16, 2008


He's got legs, he knows how to use them.
He never begs, he knows how to choose them.

I like the idea of a Hybrid Olympics (Hybrolympics?), where as long as your brain is human, anything else goes. Combined animal and human parts, augmented mechanical parts, whatever you can think of to do to yourself to give you a leg up on the competition (literally, if you opt for an additional leg), it's all good. Pay Per View, of course.
posted by jamstigator at 1:40 PM on July 16, 2008


geoff.: Right, which is why this whole debate gets absurd rather quickly and why I can't figure out the big hoopla over performance enhancing drugs. So someone can have a strictly regimented diet and train 10 hours a day but can't inject low doses of steroids? Or this guy cannot have prosthetic blades but I don't see any restrictions on lasik surgery for biathlon runners.
Favorited for extreme truthiness. I too don't understand why people care about PEDs, but don't care about cortisone shots (a steroid) that extended the career of Sandy Koufax and have been around for more than half a century. I don't understand why people would think this guy has an unfair advantage, but Tommy John surgery is perfectly okay. These people are already pushing themselves to extremes- and I don't see the "integrity" of the sport impacted if this guy is allowed to compete. Where do we draw the line? I say "nowhere". If someone wants to risk their life and health for shaving a half second of speed at the Olympics, hell... let 'em. Or to put it far more succinctly:
I Foody: I think we should say that he is allowed as long as he can't qualify and once he or another person with prosthetics can qualify we should take the fact that they qualify as proof that the prosthetics give them an unfair advantage. Wait, that's what's going on. Good.
An aside about Tommy John surgery:
kingbenny: It's pretty different, on the surface anyway. Tommy John surgery doesn't add any major component that wasn't already part of the body.
But that's actually not entirely true; the tendon in the elbow is often replaced with a stronger tendon from another part of the body. The result is a lot of pitchers return from surgery feeling stronger, and claiming- with some evidence- to have 2-4 m.p.h. added to their fastball.

And along those lines... if someone had a titanium hip replacement, would they be banned from competition? If so, why? If not, why not? If prosthetic technology allows pitchers to have Tommy John surgery where it's not a tendon from their body- or even any human body- is that now not allowed? What if the technology first allows people to regain their previous velocity... but after a few years of refinements start adding significant velocity, where 90m.p.h. pitchers suddenly are hurling 100m.p.h. with no pain, do we then draw the line? If so, why? If not, why not?
posted by hincandenza at 1:50 PM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's disingenuous to liken limb replacement to cortisone shots. Most people will intuit a big difference between the two. That's because there is one: one is replacement, the other is enhancement. That's not to say there isn't going to be some arbitrariness in deciding what's permissible, or there won't be some cases that fall into a gray area. This isn't one of them though.
posted by decoherence at 1:54 PM on July 16, 2008


...the aleiptes were "anointers" who anointed athletes’ bodies with oil for muscle massages.

At last - my dream job!
posted by Space Kitty at 1:58 PM on July 16, 2008


The issue here is of fairness. The Cheetah blades are an external device, and if one runner is to be allowed to use them then all runners must be allowed, out of fairness. The result would be a race run with everyone wearing super-springy Cheetah-like shoes and the winner would be determined by engineering and design prowess, rather than athletic ability.
Oscar Pistorius is a fine athlete and a great inspiration and role-model. But he shouldn't qualify for the Olympics.
posted by rocket88 at 2:05 PM on July 16, 2008


It's disingenuous to liken limb replacement to cortisone shots.

It's also disingenuous to liken it to driving a car or having powered cybernetic limbs, and it's not much more disingenuous that stating flat out that his limbs are the only reason he's in the ballpark of being a world class athlete. Not to mention that running on those things hurts like hell, from what I've heard, and running without being able to feel the ground underneath you is, to put it charitably, difficult to do without falling over, so it's not exactly all good news. In some ways, he has to work harder than other runners just to stay up on those things.

I say let him run. There's no "motorized wheelchair" slippery slope here.
posted by middleclasstool at 2:09 PM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


But that's actually not entirely true; the tendon in the elbow is often replaced with a stronger tendon from another part of the body.

I'm still not sure how that makes what I said any part untrue. The major difference, as I see it, is that in a Tommy John operation it's still a tendon at the end of the day, it's not a space-age-titanium-alloy wing. And you're absolutely right in that it makes hip replacements and other common operations involving pins and screws and such also seem like a gray area. And that it does undoubtedly add some performance, and certainly longevity, to the pitcher, I don't dispute that. It just seems to me that, when it's still a tendon, it's in a little different class.
posted by kingbenny at 2:10 PM on July 16, 2008


Perhaps this is part of the inevitable development of athletics. The original amateur principle of good-natured competition between people who had well-rounded normal lives outside their sport gradually gave way to one based on professionals who do nothing else and earn a living from sport. The next stage is presumably where the professionals yield gradually to the principle of showbiz, where being remarkable, or cute, or amusing, will matter more than simple dull performance. A man with bionic feet (or whatever) will get more audience than a hard-working professional who looks much like every other athlete.
posted by Phanx at 2:14 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The question of technological augmentation is not clear-cut. It should be no surprise that this has been a hot issue in cycling, where technology is a necessary part of the sport.

The tension between respecting pure human effort and permitting technological innovation has been going on since (at least) the 1930s, and has been most visibly played out in the hour record (which is not an Olympic event). A cyclist in 1934 shattered the previous hour record on a recumbent. The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) invalidated that record and redefined what was a "legal" bike to exclude recumbents. The hour record fell numerous times in the 80s and 90s, starting with Francesco Moser's attempt using disc wheels. Around 2000, the UCI invalidated all the records since 1972, and redefined the "legal" bike to basically what prevailed in 1972.

But you know what? A bike made today to mimic a 1972 bike is still better. Metallurgy is vastly improved. Spokes are of much more uniform quality. Frame members can be drawn with slimmer walls, and permit different joining technologies. And so on.

The technology of running is less evident, but it's still present. I wonder if any runners today could turn in the same times they usually do while wearing shoes that prevailed when Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile.

The question of how far is too far to go with technology in sports is one we'll never stop wrestling with. Oscar Pistorius' case is interesting because it represents such a sudden shift in technology, which, on its own merits, would probably be disallowed out of hand, but is made more complex because it is combined with an amputee—a person who's at a natural disadvantage in the sport, and who tends to evoke…perhaps not sympathy, but at least an unwillingness to seem narrow-minded. The fact is that we don't know whether the blades give Pistorius an advantage. There's no control group, no scientific evidence, no unamputated identical twin to race him against. What we do know is that they give him a fighting shot at competing in the Olympics, and, well, Holy Shit, what a world we live in.
posted by adamrice at 2:14 PM on July 16, 2008 [10 favorites]


The rule that people seem to intuitively apply for these sorts of thing is that you're allowed to take measures to regain your former, "natural" level of functioning -- hence cortisone shots and Tommy John surgery -- as well as to fix any deficits you might have relative to the general population -- hence Lasik surgery -- provided those measures don't augment your own abilities past what you might've had naturally. In other words, do what it takes to get everyone to the same baseline level of good, healthy, normal functioning, then let natural talent and ability take over from there. The prosthetic blades strike people as funny because there's a significant question about whether Pistorius would've had the same level of extraordinary legs functioning had he be born with "normal" legs. There's a big, justified suspicion that the blades are giving him abilities far beyond what he would've had on his own in some idealized world where he was born with normally functioning legs. An equivalent situation would giving a congenitally blind guy the super-enhanced night vision of a cat and then declaring him winner of a competitive night-time game of hide and seek.
posted by decoherence at 2:20 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vancouver is ready to host the Olympics whenever this gets approved.
posted by netbros at 2:21 PM on July 16, 2008


Metafilter: Superhuman springy prosthetic legs.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:25 PM on July 16, 2008


All I can say about this is that I sure hope the participants from $NATION wins, since that clearly means that $NATION is better and cooler than other nations.
posted by odinsdream at 2:31 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


kingbenny: It just seems to me that, when it's still a tendon, it's in a little different class.
But you haven't addressed the question of "What happens when it's not a tendon?" It's already a surgery that, as a by-product, may actually improve the arm from where it had been- at health- previously. Therefore, your disapproval isn't based on I Foody's sarcastic observation that "We allow these things so long as they are shown to have negative value".

The grey area continues: if Tommy John is acceptable and common place, wouldn't it be far less risky, medically, to use an artificial tendon than to do surgery on another part of the body to remove a tendon? And if that space-age-titanium-alloy tendon is crafted, should athletes choose riskier surgeries just to remain "pure" in your eyes? Maybe we should we ban any and all medical assistance to athletes, since this defiles their "purity"- if God wanted them to be elite athletes, they wouldn't have gotten injured and would have the genetics to recovery faster! No cortisone shots, no Tommy John surgery or torn labrum surgery or ACL surgery- that's defying what the Fates decree!

On preview, adamrice puts it well. Improvements in the exterior equipment- bikes, bats, rackets, etc- aren't usually held to the same scrutiny, yet the innovation in these areas has as much if nor more effect on improving the objective level of athletic achievement. In the case of Pistorius, we'll never know if he's at best regained his form- for all we know, he might have been the greatest sprinter in history if he had his full legs, and is now running slower than he would. It's noteworthy that with all the amputees in the world, I've not heard of even one other case of someone coming close to Olympic levels. But the mere fact that the medical technology allows him to compete; why is this a bad thing? If crazed sprinters want to try cutting off their legs and seeing if they run faster, we'll only have to do that experiment once. :)

Or I guess we could find a one-legged runner, give them the prosthetic, and see which leg is holding them back; if they are being slowed by the prosthetic, then we know it confers no advantage.
posted by hincandenza at 2:34 PM on July 16, 2008


If he had super-springy prosthetics that allowed him to jump 10m higher than the highest high-jumper, would that be fair?
posted by gnutron at 2:37 PM on July 16, 2008


Douglas Bader fought as a fighter pilot during WWII. He was a double amputee following an air accident which took place many years prior to the war. (Somehow he managed to get himself re-instated into active duty in the RAF folloing his recovery) One of his amputations was above the knee, making it more difficult to walk unaided by orders of magnitude, but he walked without crutches or canes. I remember reading his story as a young boy - it is said that he suffered less from g-force blackouts in high speed turns during dogfights because of his amputations. He also crashed his Spitfire on take-off because he had forgotten to alter the pitch of his propeller - the artificial legs were mangled in the crash but he was otherwise ok.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 2:40 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If he had super-springy prosthetics that allowed him to jump 10m higher than the highest high-jumper, would that be fair?

I think if you had some way of showing that it was, in fact, the super-springy prosthetics and not just him being, like, awesome that caused him to jump 10m higher than anybody else, then no, it's not fair. The problem of course being there is no way to know at this point.
posted by kingbenny at 2:43 PM on July 16, 2008


hincandenza writes "Improvements in the exterior equipment- bikes, bats, rackets, etc- aren't usually held to the same scrutiny, yet the innovation in these areas has as much if nor more effect on improving the objective level of athletic achievement."

Probably because, in theory anyways, anyone can pickup a better racket or bat and level the playing field. Prosthetics not so much.
posted by Mitheral at 2:47 PM on July 16, 2008


As time passes and cybernetics, genetics, etc gets better its interesting to wonder what will happen. Will we split sports into enhanced and non-enhanced categories? Will there be a special "Baseline Human Olympics" that eventually becomes less watched because the Enhanced Olympics has faster, better, and otherwise more amazing feats?

Or will enhanced athletes bring about their own popular downfall? "Meh, Cyborg Weightlifter #1 beat Cyborg Weightlifter #2 because he was better engineered, let's see what the baseline humans can do...."

I note that the Olympic committee has already ruled that genetically augmented humans are barred from competing. Kinda sad to think that we're already building institutionalized racism against a group that doesn't actually exist yet.
posted by sotonohito at 2:50 PM on July 16, 2008


Formula 1 racing could be considered as a warning of how boring this could be.
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure money can't say maybe.

If it can, on the other hand, I need to call my bookie.
posted by oats at 2:55 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Decoherence - The rule that people seem to intuitively apply for these sorts of thing is that you're allowed to take measures to regain your former, "natural" level of functioning

I hear you - and this seems to be the opinion that people are arriving at in relation to drug use in sport. Andy Pettite's admitted use of HGH to "heal faster after an injury" is viewed in a different light than Barry Bonds allegedly using steroids to enhance/alter his physique. Don't get me started on the racial aspect, because that can't be ignored either, but there are other examples of the same slide-rule being applied that fall in between Saint Andy and The Devil.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 2:56 PM on July 16, 2008


the winner would be determined by engineering and design prowess, rather than athletic ability.

...isn't this, at least partially, what NASCAR is? I understand that drivers and pit crews have skills that others don't, but it's laughable to say the quality of the car you're driving isn't a large part of it. It's a racing sport based primarily on who's machine is the best.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:57 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Improvements in the exterior equipment- bikes, bats, rackets, etc- aren't usually held to the same scrutiny, yet the innovation in these areas has as much if nor more effect on improving the objective level of athletic achievement.

That's because engineered equipment is inherent to these sports. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that they're all, to varying degrees, tests of one's ability to use these different contraptions. We could stipulate that cyclists all have to use the exact same model of 1920's era bike (much as divers don't get to specify what sort of board they dive off of), but we haven't; that's just not what the sport is. Running, on the other hand, is the kind of sport where we're more or less expected to be using uniform equipment: "the human body in its natural state." So there's a reason why engineering and technological advances are going to be a lot less acceptable in that particular arena.
posted by decoherence at 2:58 PM on July 16, 2008


I find it hard to believe that anything actually works 100% better as a leg than a real leg... and fyi, I'm saying this as someone whose father was an amputee. My dad went through many prostheses over the years and I learned a lot about the process along the way.

The fact is, the human body's performance is really difficult to artificially surpass (let alone duplicate) in many, many ways.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:04 PM on July 16, 2008


In other words: how we define what a particular sport is, and how narrowly we specify the expectations and the equipment to be used, is going to play a big part in determinining what sorts of things we consider acceptable in that sport. To think that all sports are identically pure "tests of athletic ability" is fallacious, and to analogize acceptability actions from one to the other doesn't really work. You really need to consider each sport on its own. (This also explains why juicing in the NFL barely raises an eyebrow.)
posted by decoherence at 3:06 PM on July 16, 2008


XQUZYPHYR writes "isn't this, at least partially, what NASCAR is? I understand that drivers and pit crews have skills that others don't, but it's laughable to say the quality of the car you're driving isn't a large part of it. It's a racing sport based primarily on who's machine is the best"

There isn't any auto racing that isn't limited (often in a weirdly arbitrary manner depending on the whims of the organisers). NASCAR is almost a spec racing series it is so regulated. Something like F1 is probably a better example where the car is the actual athlete but even then the list of must Dos and Do Nots is impressive.
posted by Mitheral at 3:20 PM on July 16, 2008


You know, in auto racing (SCCA level and similar) they handle this by giving you the option of running in the "Stock" or "Showroom Stock" or similar class, where mods are limited to safety and a few non-road-legal mods, and "Modified" or "Unlimited" or similar class, where all bets are off and the money is unlimited.

I don't see why we can't do the same thing in the Olympics; let all the drugged up and/or prosthetic wearing folks compete in one set of games (presumably with the rules amped up accordingly) and the rest compete in a separate set. It'd be especially interesting (as it is in auto racing) when someone in the unmodified (as it were) class outperforms someone in the modified class.
posted by davejay at 3:23 PM on July 16, 2008


There are already events where paralympic athletes have a huge technological advantage.

The current world record for the marathon is 2:04:26.
The current Canadian record for wheelchair marathon is 1:33:48.

If Pistorius' prosthetics give him no advantage he should fire the guy who designed them. I would be quite happy to see spring-shoe events at the Olympics (why amputate when you can strap on a pair of these) and even happier to see Pistorius win the first gold.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:25 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this guy took up swimming and had huge flippers on the end of his prostheses that allowed him to swim at around the same level of excellence at which he currently runs, would anybody argue that he should be allowed to compete?
posted by yoink at 3:26 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I very much want the commercial version of these for those of us who still have the old boring kind of feet.
posted by rokusan at 3:28 PM on July 16, 2008


I don't know about you, but if I heard the sound of a giant pair of scissors closing in behind me, I'd start running faster.
posted by bwg at 3:48 PM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


adamrice's comment reminded me of a recent article about the controversy surrounding the new "high-tech" swimsuit that Speedo's designed for olympic athletes:

since it was introduced in February, swimmers wearing it have set a stunning 38 world records. Rivals' suits have set just three world records during that time, which has them crying foul (while scrambling to come up with their own sci-fi suits). The coach of the Italian team calls the LZR Racer "technological doping." The second largest U.S. swimwear maker, TYR, filed a federal lawsuit in California, alleging anticompetitive practices, against Speedo's parent company, the coach of the U.S. swim team and even a TYR endorser, Olympic medalist Erik Vendt, who switched to the Speedo. A Japanese swimmer under contract to Mizuno just set a world record in a LZR (pronounced laser), which he'll wear in Beijing. Swimming's governing body, FINA, approved the LZR for the Olympics, but controversy still swirls, which is fine by Speedo. "It's very nice to have your competitors recognize they're at a disadvantage," says Speedo's marketing chief Stu Isaac. "They're doing our marketing for us."

The rest is here. Also, a google image search, since the online version of the article doesn't have a full-sized photo of the actual suit.

Regarding Pistorius, I understand the arguments from both sides, so I can't really say what should be done. I expect that, in the end, he won't be allowed to compete, even if he does make a qualifying time. I also can't help but feel a rush of nerdy "ho shit, we're living in the future" glee when I think about how we've designed a pair of artificial legs that outperforms what nature gave us. And I would totally buy a pair designed for the able-bodied. I always wanted moonboots as a child, but Santa never brought me any. *sniff* :(

Car? That's not a car. That's my gigantic motorised left shoe.
posted by le morte de bea arthur


Better yet, have the athletes race wearing those sneakers with the wheels in the heels. I would tune in for that!
posted by kosher_jenny at 3:50 PM on July 16, 2008


The paralympics should be televised, too.

2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing website.

In Australia the Paralympics will be broadcast on ABC. "ABC will broadcast more than 100 hours...the biggest coverage of a Paralympic Games ever." In the U.K. there will be coverage by the BBC.
posted by ericb at 3:51 PM on July 16, 2008


The issue here is of fairness.

Genetic advantages are pretty unfair, but I think when someone tries to fix this advantage by giving their kid the purported "Kenyan running genes," that kid will be called "unfair."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:52 PM on July 16, 2008


This seems pretty simple to me -- everybody or nobody. Either everybody is allowed to attach a prosthetic device to their lower limbs and run with them, in which case he can run, or nobody is, in which case he can't.

The same logic applies to drugs, training, special shoes, surgery, etc.

You can't say only amputees get to use special springy-leg things. That's ridiculous. If he runs, the non-amputee runners all get to strap on special springy-leg things, too, if they want. If people don't want that, he can't be allowed to run. Sorry.

I don't see why this is so hard.
posted by kyrademon at 3:56 PM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


let all the drugged up and/or prosthetic wearing folks compete in one set of games (presumably with the rules amped up accordingly) and the rest compete in a separate set.

I'm pretty sure the point here is that this already exists. It's called the paralympics. That is for the people with prosthetics.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:59 PM on July 16, 2008


Pistorius is already a champion, and a hero to me, regardless of what decisions are made about his competitive future. I don't hold the institution of the Olympics (with its bullying nationalism, money scandals, corruption, and rampant cheating) in half as much regard as I do this guy.
posted by jtron at 4:19 PM on July 16, 2008



So would a guy with a prosthetic penis be banned from porno films?
posted by notreally at 4:29 PM on July 16, 2008


I'll be strapping on my jetpack for the high jump.
posted by longsleeves at 4:34 PM on July 16, 2008


Deep-fried sweet-battered body of christ on a popsicle stick, here's what we do. Every year before the Olympics, we get a big fat means test of athletic ability together, arite? We get test subjects all up and down the physical capability scale, from that 300 lb. Mountain Dew-sucking furry straight on up to hoohaing Navy SEALS, and we come up with a per-year average for the whole of humanity, and we peg an upper limit to the Olypmics performance based on the traditional performance of exceptional outliers in relation to that average. And then anybody who wants in is in.
posted by saysthis at 4:42 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Everybody or nobody" is trivial to apply to equipment-based sport. You get the same bike as everyone else. Maybe one capable of some minor adjustments for your height, but otherwise, you get what you're given, the officially issued device. Ditto swimsuits, racquets, pogo sticks, beer hats, and paddles.

To ensure that advances continue, and that cyclists aren't forced to continue to ride penny-farthings, hold equipment trials. Have a board of non-competing athletes approve equipment to ensure that nothing that basically makes the human operator's skills secondary, nothing too stupid, or nothing that "only works for Freddy's exact height, weight and build" gets in. Then let these non-competing athletes try out the equipment. Whatever device gives the overall best result gets the contract. Next Olympics, that manufacturer must submit the same device, but may submit one other as well. Other manufacturers have had four years to try to beat them.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:47 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Scientists: Humans will merge with machines in the future (cnn).
posted by cashman at 4:49 PM on July 16, 2008


Kosher_jenny, those exist. Powerizers.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:50 PM on July 16, 2008


Coming late to this discussion, but as an amateur athlete and being close friends (and the husband) of world-class athletes, I have had many discussions on this topic.

The PED vs training thing is a non-starter, as are many other arguments, and here's why:

Sport isn't about fairness. It's about rules. There's a huuuge difference. All men are not born equal, so to speak, and there are many, many advantages inherent in some people's genetics, upbringing, nationality, funding....the list goes on. The only constant thing are the rules. And you know what? Those rules change all the time. New equipment, new research, new safety standars etc all contribute to changes in the rules to accommodate new circumstances.

Usually when we discuss able-bodied vs paralympic (which, incidentally, refers to parallel and not paraplegic - lots of people make that mistake) its how much worse off paralympic athletes are. There are many, varied classification systems in paralympic events. My wife, a physiotherapist and former national team rower, works as an 'adaptive' rowing classifier to determine what category various injuries would place a rower in. It's very complicated and not always fair, but the sport exists within the rules. If this guy were to compete in the paralympics the level playing field would most certainly not go away. The paralympics aren't some last resort for the freaks. It's taken seriously and there are very great problems with classification. It's way, way less fair than the open able-bodied events.

As a former track runner, I'd gladly compete against this guy. He's not shown any major advantage. If he did, regulation would prevent it and a review would be done. It would be difficult to develop standardized equipment for disabilities which are, by definition, non-standard, but then you'd just have to have subjective classifiers to determine if it were unfair. It is, after all, amateur athletics at the end of the day. If there's a bit of give and take either way, so be it. It's not life and death. It's sport, it's life. Get over it.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:12 PM on July 16, 2008


notreally: So would a guy with a prosthetic penis be banned from porno films?
Clearly, no.
posted by hincandenza at 5:25 PM on July 16, 2008


You can't say only amputees get to use special springy-leg things. That's ridiculous. If he runs, the non-amputee runners all get to strap on special springy-leg things, too, if they want. If people don't want that, he can't be allowed to run. Sorry.

Sounds good to me. If they want to have their legs cut off below the knees so they can wear one too, by all means go for it. I'm sure there are doctors in Thailand who wouldn't ask too many questions.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:30 PM on July 16, 2008


jimmythefish: When I brought up fairness, I was referring to the application of the rules. In all Olympic sports, the rules apply to every competitor. That's equal and fair. Letting one runner use equipment not available (by the rules) to the others would open a can of worms the Olympics and the IAAF would best leave closed.
posted by rocket88 at 6:28 PM on July 16, 2008


There are already events where paralympic athletes have a huge technological advantage.

The current world record for the marathon is 2:04:26.
The current Canadian record for wheelchair marathon is 1:33:48.

If Pistorius' prosthetics give him no advantage he should fire the guy who designed them. I would be quite happy to see spring-shoe events at the Olympics (why amputate when you can strap on a pair of these) and even happier to see Pistorius win the first gold.


Okay, so you are comparing artificial legs to WHEELING CHAIRS? Not really similar.

As I said before, if you are trying to create a leg *replacement* (which a wheelchair is most definitely NOT), it is difficult to surpass the perfomance of a human leg. There's a reason amputees have to regularly replace their prostheses, the wear and tear that the human body endures is beyond what most prostheses can take for an extended period without wearing out. And they often have to own more than one prosthesis since no prosthesis can work in all situations as well as the original leg. For example, these springs will work fine for sprint running, but if it was a marathon or if there were hurdles involved, they would not work at all. And frankly, if he was not inherently a fast runner whose body would've probably run just as fast with real legs, no special feet could possibly help.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:03 PM on July 16, 2008


Once again I find myself at odds with the zeitgeist of Metafilter participants, as the most surprising thing I found in this story was that something made out of carbon fiber could be so elastic.
posted by Tube at 7:25 PM on July 16, 2008


This is a very interesting discussion. I'm not really sure what I think. His legs are damn cool looking, I guess that's what I think.
posted by jcruelty at 10:11 PM on July 16, 2008


On preview, adamrice puts it well. Improvements in the exterior equipment- bikes, bats, rackets, etc- aren't usually held to the same scrutiny

In pro road cycling the bikes are put under a mammoth amount of scrutiny, and the UCI are constantly changing the regulations to attempt to limit the advantage that technology can give. They want the sport to be about the riders, not the bikes. There are weight limits, tube diameter limits, limits on the angles of the frames, limits on aero-dynamic additions and others. Before races the UCI officials will be out there measuring and weighing bikes to ensure they are legal.
posted by markr at 11:05 PM on July 16, 2008


And then there's Casey Martin, the pro golfer who has a back condition and was allowed to use a motorised cart to get aroung the course.

p.s. - Pistorious failed to qualify apparently
posted by Nick Verstayne at 7:19 AM on July 17, 2008


I'm also a fairly serious runner and I'd compete against this dude... and, in fact, I (literally, I guess) run across runners like this during marathons pretty regularly, albeit not in Olympic / super high level competition.... let's make that clear...

Anyway, this guy is clearly part of the track community and has been for some time. He's not some mad scientist who amputated his legs, he's just a super hardcore athlete that kept going, despite a major setback. (Having no legs.)

I never got this whole "slippery slope" thing -- this kind of thing is rare enough that we can take each one on a case by case basis. At this point, his advantage, if he has one, isn't huge. It's not like he's wearing rocket boots or something.

I say, let him play. If he wins, maybe there'll be a star next to the record or whatever, but that's not the end of the world.
posted by ph00dz at 7:25 AM on July 17, 2008


I sure would like to see an anything human powered on two wheels goes cycling series. Sort of a F1 for bicycle racing and endurance events. I wonder what the unlimited hour record would be, especially if they held it on a tri-oval super speedway.
posted by Mitheral at 7:32 AM on July 17, 2008


I also think he should be allowed to compete, and yes, apparently he failed to qualify in the individual events, but may have a shot at the 4x400 relay. Some tension still exists between Pistorius, the I.O.C. and the S.A.O.C.

The reason I'd like to see him compete may have been mentioned above--I scanned the thread and saw similar sentiments, but not perhaps the same reasons. And if by chance there were, then I say that more voices may help.

I think that if Pistorius continues to compete, and if he can make it to the largest sporting venue for his sport, I think that might have the effect of spurring developmental advances in prosthetics AND promote visibility of people using prosthetics in everyday life. The more visibility and accomplishment, the less that men & women with prosthetic arms and legs are viewed as less-than-human, or somehow alien creatures.

I am tangentially involved in crip culture and I want to see the day when athletes such as Pistorius are no longer held up as solitary heroic human-interest oddities that NBC (or whomever) can milk for ratings, nor held back because their "equipment" is other-than-standard.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:25 AM on July 17, 2008


ph00dz writes "I never got this whole 'slippery slope' thing -- this kind of thing is rare enough that we can take each one on a case by case basis. At this point, his advantage, if he has one, isn't huge. It's not like he's wearing rocket boots or something. "

Generally I'm of the opinion that better precedent is set and better policy/rules/laws/regulations are written if they are done with careful deliberation and aren't reactionary.

For sake of argument let's pretend for a minute that a double amputee steps up with a prosthetic that does give him an advantage, say powerizers like devices for pole vault. After the athlete smashes the world record by a metre in qualifying is not the time to be ruling on the legality of the prosthetic. 'Cause at that point it doesn't matter which way you rule people are going to be pissed off. The best you can hope for is a compromise ruling that pisses both sides off equally.

Because of the individual nature of prothetics I don't see anyway of allowing prosthetics like this and not treading down the NASCAR path of constant, even daily, tweaks of the rules in a constant battle to level the playing field.
posted by Mitheral at 8:59 AM on July 17, 2008


miss lynnster, I wasn't trying to be flippant. I agree that Pistorius is an extremely talented runner, and that a racing prosthesis needs to be highly specialized to be able to compete against a good old-fashioned leg.

The question is deciding at what point we stop calling something a replacement and start calling it an enhancement, and it's very hard to draw that line.

I think I was being overly concerned about precedent. Pistorius' case is rare and, his prosthetics are not so exotic as to make his running different in kind from other runners. We can figure out rules for bionic athletes later -- for now, if the man can qualify, let him run.

I would still like to see spring-shoe events at the olympics, though. Hurdles 2m high!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:27 AM on July 17, 2008


I had a post on Pistorius a while back, so I'm already on record as a partisan. I think this guy is way more interesting than the Olympics itself, and if they want to exclude him that's their loss. When a rule-making body hides behind the defense: 'but the rules say...' they've lost my respect. You MAKE the rules, and all they do is hide your narrow prejudice. The principles of amateur athleticim clearly place triumphs over adversity above bureaucratic sticklerism.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2008


Mitheral: There are records for streamlined human-powered vehicle, administered by the IHPVA.

The hour record administered by the IHPVA is 87.109 km; the hour record administered by the UCI is 49.700 km—it had gotten as high as 56.375 before the UCI retroactively changed its rules.

In the 200-m flying start, the IHPVA record is 5.523 seconds, which works out to 130.36 km/h. That's fast.

While the riders on these HPVs are unquestionably excellent athletes, as far as I'm aware there have been no HPV record attempts by cyclists from the world of UCI-sanctioned cycling, who I suspect are stronger cyclists still.
posted by adamrice at 10:32 AM on July 17, 2008


Here's a really good discussion of Pistorius by two PhDs in Exercise Physiology on their excellent blog The Science of Sport.
posted by grounded at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow--anyone actually interested in this issue should read the analysis linked to by grounded (above). They make a pretty good case that he his cheetah legs allow him to run at speeds WAY above what he would be able to achieve at his current level of fitness with ordinary legs. Simply put, he's using far less energy to achieve the same outcomes as his peers. That seems to me to make it an open and shut case. He shouldn't run because he's participating in a different sport.
posted by yoink at 12:42 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


No one has yet pointed out that Oscar Pistorius:

* Was genetically damaged at birth
* Was enhanced by technology in a way that could easily be depicted in montage
* Is wealthy
* Is hot
* Lives a glamorous lifestyle

...and therefore meets all the qaulifications for being a superhero, if he would only take up fighting crime. I would suggest he call himself "The Piston."

Oscar, you're wasting your time with this running nonsense, unless of course that's just your cover.
posted by rusty at 1:43 PM on July 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Simply put, he's using far less energy to achieve the same outcomes as his peers.

Does everybody know the old joke about the kettle? A man is charged by one of his neighbors with having given him back a borrowed kettle in a damaged condition. The defendant asserted, first, that he had given it back undamaged; secondly, that the kettle had a hole in it when he borrowed it; and thirdly, that he had never borrowed the kettle from his neighbor at all.

The objections to Pistorius have this flavor: first, he's not really faster since he didn't qualify; second, if he did qualify he's got to have an advantage; and third, he doesn't deserve to qualify, anyway, because he's a lazy lightweight rich boy with major sponsors. Now, maybe one of these is true, but the fact that Pistorius's opponents keep moving the bar for his exclusion leads me to believe that there's a prejudice working here that goes beyond the science. It basically doesn't matter -what- the science says: it's always an excuse to exclude him, because -duh- he's different and weird and makes us feel squeamish.

The defenders are in the same position, of course: first, he's a great athlete and the prosthetics just make it possible for him to compete; second, he hasn't even qualified, so it's obviously not an advantage; third, he's pretty cool, and it doesn't matter if he's more efficient or less. Within certain limits, it basically doesn't matter what the science says, because we've got to make a transition from facts to norms. And when I think about mankind's struggle against it's limits, I find Pistorius more impressive than Merritt, that's all. Even if Merritt is faster than him, Pistorius is faster than everyone I know, and the dude's got no legs!

A thinner runner would use less total energy, as would a taller runner. Pistorius carries his weight differently than most 400m runners: he's able to pack 177 lbs of muscle into the same space that most runners have only 5/6 of their weight. Pistorius uses less energy, but he has to produce it using fewer, stronger muscles. (This is one reason I suspect that the anaerobic energy use may partially correct for aerobic energy drop-offs.)

As has been pointed out before, the Achilles tendon is actually a pretty amazing tool for returning energy, but nobody complains that the regular runners get tendons and Pistorius is deprived of nature's excellent achievements in this regard. A stiffer tendon returns more energy than a loose one, so less flexible runners are at a disadvantage, but nobody complains about that, either.

There's something very Harrison Bergeron about many of the objections to his performance. The human frame comes in many variations, and some of them are better for running than others. If it turns out that legless people are better than able-bodied people, why should we hold back the legless? Let all those legged people watch in dissatisfaction as they realize that circumstances beyond their control have kept them from competing, all the while blaming themselves for not having tried harder or sacrificed more to win!
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:41 PM on July 17, 2008


so less more flexible runners are at a disadvantage

FTFM
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2008


This is not a Harrison Bergeron thing. No one is saying that no runner can be allowed to be better than any other runner. This is a question about the rules of a sporting event. That's all.

There's a fantastic misconception among some people here that when some of us talk about an "unfair advantage", we are referring to any advantage at all. That we believe (or somehow logically should believe) that having better training, more money, or better genetics are also necessarily "unfair advantages", and plenty of people get to use those, so why shouldn't Pistorius get to use his?

The thing is, that's not what's being meant by "unfair advantage". Those things may or may not be unfair, but that's not the kind of thing we're talking about. We're talking about unfair RULES advantages, which are the only kind that matter in sports. This has been unclear in this conversation, but that is what is being discussed.

Better training, more money, and better genetics are considered "fair" advantages because -- and solely because -- they are allowed within the rules, and the rules apply to everyone the same. If your sport requires that you own a pony, then having a lot of money is a heck of an advantage, even an "unfair" advantage in a general sense, but it is not an unfair *rules* advantage, because it applies to everyone; everyone either brings a pony and can play, or does not bring a pony and cannot play -- there is no special rule that this one guy one time can play with an elephant instead, but only him. *That* would be an unfair rules advantage, because it only applies to one person.

So with Pistorius, the question is not, and never was, whether he has an unfair advantage because of talent, or equipment, or what have you. The only question is this: does allowing him to run mean that there is a special rule that applies only to him, or at least does not apply to everyone?

My argument is that, if you do not allow people with perfectly good legs to also strap on special springy leg attachments that may extend their speed, but allow Pistorius to run, then yes, you have created a special rule that applies only to him. He can use special equipment, others can't. It doesn't matter if he has a disadvantage otherwise. Other than the rules, sports aren't supposed to be fair. Hence the confusion in this discussion.

So, really, there are only three ways to solve this:

1) Allow Pistorius to run, but allow anyone who wants to use similar equipment, whether or not they have his disadvantage.
2) Don't allow Pistorius to run.
3) Create a new race category in which equipment like Pistorius' is specifically allowed, and let him run in that. Some have pointed out that this already exists in the Paralympics; I see no reason it couldn't exist in the Olympics as well -- there are plenty of equipment-based sports in it already.

Anything else gives Pistorius an unfair rules advantage. Which is different from a plain old unfair advantage, which is what sports are all about. Everyone wants to see someone kick ass, but no one wants to see someone kick ass because he or she gets to strap on a rocket pack AND NO ONE ELSE DOES. That's the difference.
posted by kyrademon at 3:22 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


The objections to Pistorius have this flavor: first, he's not really faster since he didn't qualify;
No one has raised that as an "objection" to his participating. That wouldn't even make sense ("he won't be there, so I don't think he should be allowed to compete").

second, if he did qualify he's got to have an advantage;

Well, duh.

and third, he doesn't deserve to qualify, anyway, because he's a lazy lightweight rich boy with major sponsors.

Who has made that point in this thread? The notion that the goalposts keep shifting is nonsense. There's just one objection--that it's meaningless to have a man with artificial legs run against people with natural legs because they are not competing in the same kind of competition.

The human frame comes in many variations, and some of them are better for running than others. If it turns out that legless people are better than able-bodied people, why should we hold back the legless? Let all those legged people watch in dissatisfaction as they realize that circumstances beyond their control have kept them from competing, all the while blaming themselves for not having tried harder or sacrificed more to win!

No one is saying the legless should be "held back." They're saying that there is only a superficial similarity between what he does out there on the track and what "legged" people do, and that it is therefore meaningless to pretend that they are in the same race.

Look, let us say that someone invents a form of the "cheetah" legs that is 50% more efficient than the current ones, so that Pistorius beats every "ordinary" human by an impossible-to-bridge. At that point you'd agree, instantly, that there was no point having him in the race--right? The "real" winner of the race would obviously be whoever came in second. Pistorious would just be the guy driving the fancy legs around the track. Hey, he's amazing at it, but it's not whatever the others are doing. Right?

So, what you're really saying is that we should put him the race now because the technology is at just the right level where he's around about the same speed as a "normal" runner. But that doesn't make his achievement remotely comparable to a real runner's (and by comparable I mean simply "comparable"--I don't mean better or worse). You could put a brake on the best wheelchair marathoner in the world so that his time slowed down to around about the time of best conventional marathoner in the world too, right? But what would that prove? If the runner beat the wheeler on a given day it wouldn't prove that the runner was "better on the day"--it would just be an unreadable artifact of that particular technological intervention. How would you determine if that result represented a "fair" one? Would you say "oh, but this wheelchair marathoner is the best ever, and that runner is just very good, so obviously we set the brake a bit too hard?" Well, when Pistorious loses do we say "oh, his cheetah legs obviously need a bit of redesigning--then the results will be fair" or do we say "oh, he's obviously not quite as good as he needs to be"?

There's just no answer to that question, and the reason there's just no answer to that question is because he isn't taking place in the same kind of competition, so his achievement simply isn't comparable to his legged peers.

This isn't a matter of discrimination, it's just the nature of games. If you're four feet tall, you're not going to play in the NBA, no matter how good a ball handler you are--and no, you can't wear special springy height extenders to get over that problem. If you've got no sense of balance you won't be allowed to use hand rails on the balance beam. If your feet are really small, you're not going to be allowed to wear flippers to make you a faster swimmer. None of this is because of "discrimination"--it's because the games become completely pointless if the achievements they are measuring aren't comparable.
posted by yoink at 3:40 PM on July 17, 2008


Or, to put it far more elegantly: what kyradaemon said.
posted by yoink at 3:42 PM on July 17, 2008


DemiUrge: "On the other hand, I don't think anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cut off their own legs to run faster."

I would imagine there are some who today would consider it. I've seen some strange things done in the name of body mutiliation. However, I agree these daring crazies are in the minority.

Give it a generation or two, and some corporate marketing programs geared to convincing the world it's actually "body augmentation" that's painless and affordable. Our great grandchildren will probably think only those in their right might would.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:25 PM on July 17, 2008


Rusty: "No one has yet pointed out that Oscar Pistorius... meets all the qaulifications for being a superhero, if he would only take up fighting crime. I would suggest he call himself 'The Piston'."

I have a character in City of Heroes who has robotic arms and legs. It's ubercool!
posted by ZachsMind at 6:58 PM on July 17, 2008


I can't believe you people! All this Scissorhands guy wants to do is run in the Olympics, and you --

What? Prosthetic springy leg blade thing?

Does he have a portal gun?
posted by dirigibleman at 8:27 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Better training, more money, and better genetics are considered "fair" advantages because -- and solely because -- they are allowed within the rules, and the rules apply to everyone the same.

I'm well aware of the distinction you're making, and I addressed it in my first comment. You can't hide behind the rules when you make the rules.

if you do not allow people with perfectly good legs to also strap on special springy leg attachments that may extend their speed, but allow Pistorius to run, then yes, you have created a special rule that applies only to him.

But we have allowed them to do that. We allow them to wear shoes, which Pistorius can't do. Thus, there is a 'special rule' that applies to many athletes but not to him. Perhaps you'll say that having legs is normal and not having them is a deviation, so therefore Pistorius is always the 'special case.' My point is simply that this is a kind of exceptional pleading; it doesn't matter what the science says, because (if you agree with the normal/able conflation) you've already decided that Pistorius should be excluded, he's always already a special case, an exception. Normal means able, right? Yet the normal/able conflation requires us to assume that all human phenotypes are similar enough to make competition fair, when we know that there are huge genetic differences that make up the majority of the distinctions amongst Olympic-class runners. The 'fat switch' gene, PPARδ, rift valley runners, etc.

There's a tremendous assumption about normality built into most arguments about amateur athleticism, one that the science doesn't bear out. Either we're here to celebrate effort, discipline, and achievement, or we're out to celebrate talent and its cultivation, or we're celebrating human excellence in its myriad forms. In any of those cases, there's nothing wrong -in principle- with allowing Pistorius to compete: he's worked hard, he's got talent, and running so fast without feet is a true expression of arete.

Look, let us say that someone invents a form of the "cheetah" legs that is 50% more efficient than the current ones, so that Pistorius beats every "ordinary" human by an impossible-to-bridge.

Let us say that someone invents a swimsuit that is 50% more efficient than the current ones, so that its wearers beat every 'ordinary' human by an impossible to bridge distance. What then?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2008


anotherpanacea writes "Let us say that someone invents a swimsuit that is 50% more efficient than the current ones, so that its wearers beat every 'ordinary' human by an impossible to bridge distance. What then?"

Everyone suits up, speedo will sell you one today. The same avenue is not available for athletes running against new and improved Cheetahs.
posted by Mitheral at 7:07 AM on July 18, 2008


Everyone suits up, speedo will sell you one today. The same avenue is not available for athletes running against new and improved Cheetahs.

As someone said above, if they were all racing barefoot these objections would make more sense. Pistorius can't benefit from enhanced shoe technology, so why should his competitors get those benefits? Oh, wait... because they're normal, right?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2008


Yep it's tricky. Glad it's not me doing the deciding especially since it seems to be tied up in some peoples mind as an issue with accommodating the disabled. Your link says that even advanced shoes aren't so much assisting runners as reducing wasted effort created by sub-optimal geometry. Pistorius is, I'd imagine, welcome to strap on any commercial shoe he wants, though they probably won't help him. His competitors don't have the same option short of an elective surgey uyou'd be hard pressed to get performed int he states.

And like I said above re: pole vaulting, a line has to be drawn somewhere unless you're going to go with an anything goes free for all. It sucks that the line is going to exclude someone. Would it be better if runners were forced to compete totally naked? The nature of Pistorius' disability would still prevent him from competing in any meaningful way but practically everyone else would be disadvantaged. More people would suffer injuries and training would be slower and harder.

And one must keep in mind that what we classify as an Olympic sport is totally arbitrary, both on a macro and micro scale. Micro like the apparent goofiness of the world one hour bicycle distance record needing to be set on an essentially spec bicycle frozen at an arbitrary point in time; retroactively no less. And macro like why is synchronized swimming an Olympic sport and square dancing isn't? Biathlon yes, cheese rolling no. The people organizing and controlling have a vision of what their sport is and for running it includes shoes but not carbon fibre springs.

Not totally on topic but I'm reminded of George Carlin classifing what's a "sport" by his reckoning:
GEORGE CARLIN AND SPORTS

To my way of thinking there are really only three sports: baseball, basketball, and football. Everything else is either a game or an activity.

Hockey comes to mind. People think hockey is a sport. It's not. Hockey is three activities taking place at the same time: ice skating, fooling around with a puck, and beating the shit out of somebody. If these guys had more brains then teeth, they'd do these things one at a time. First go ice-skating, then fool around with a puck, then you go to the bar and beat the shit out of somebody. The day would last longer, and these guys would have a lot more fun. Another reason why hockey isn't a sport is that it's not played with a ball. Anything not played with a ball can't be a sport. These are my rules, I make 'em up.

Soccer. Soccer is not a sport because you can't use your arms. Anything where you can't use your arms can't be a sport. Tap dancing isn't a sport. I rest my case.

Running. People think running is a sport. Running isn't a sport because anybody can do it. I can run, you can run. For Christ sakes, my mother can run! You don't see her on the cover of Sports Illustrated, do you?

Swimming. Swimming isn't a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That's just common sense. Sailing isn't a sport. Sailing is a way to get somewhere. Riding the bus isn't a sport, why the fuck should sailing be a sport?

Boxing is not a sport either. Boxing is a way to beat the shit out of somebody. In that respect, boxing is actually a more sophisticated way of hockey. In spite of what the police tell you, beating the shit out of somebody is not a sport. When police brutality becomes an Olympic event, fine, then boxing can be a sport.

Bowling. Bowling isn't a sport because you have to rent shoes. Don't forget, these are my rules. I make 'em up.

Billiards. Some people think billiards is a sport, but it can't be, because there's no chance of serious injury. Unless, of course, you welch on a bet in a tough neighborhood. Then, if you wind up with a pool cue stickin' out of your ass, you know you might be the victim of a sports-related injury. But that ain't billiards, that's pool, and that starts with a P, and that rhymes with D, and that brings me to darts.

Darts could have been a sport, because at least there's a chance to put someone's eye out. But, alas, darts will never be a sport, because the whole object of the game is to reach zero, which goes against all sports logic.

Lacrosse is not a sport; lacrosse is a faggoty college activity. I don't care how rough it is, anytime you're running around a field, waving a stick with a little net on the end of it, you're engaged in a faggoty college activity. Period.

Field hockey and fencing. Same thing. Faggoty college shit. Also these activities aren't sports, because you can't gamble on them. Anything you can't gamble on can't be a sport. When was the last time you made a fuckin' fencing bet?

Gymnastics is not a sport because Romanians are good at it. It took me a long time to come up with that rule, but goddammit, I did it.

Polo isn't a sport. Polo is golf on horseback. Without holes. It's a great concept, but not a sport. And as far as water polo is concerned, I hesitate to even mention it, because it's extremely cruel to horses.

Which brings me to hunting. You think hunting is a sport? Ask the deer. The only good thing about hunting is the many fatal accidents on the weekends. And, of course, the permanently disfigured hunters who survive such accidents.

Then you have tennis. Tennis is very trendy and very fruity, but it's not a sport. It's just a way to meet other trendy fruits. Technically, tennis is an advanced form a Ping-Pong. In fact, tennis is Ping-Pong played while standing on the table. Great concept, not a sport.

In fact, all racket games are nothing more the derivatives of Ping-Pong. Even volleyball is, technically, racketless, team Ping-Pong played with an inflated ball and raised net while standing on the table.

And finally welcome to golf. For my full take on golf, I refer you elsewhere in the book, but let it just be said golf is a game that might possibly be fun, if it could be played alone. But it's the vacuous, striving, superficial, male-bonding joiners one has to associate with that makes it such a repulsive pastime. And it is decidedly not a sport. Period.
I'd imagine most people playing sports he's discounted as games or activities would disagree. Luckily for them they are making the rules.
posted by Mitheral at 12:22 PM on July 18, 2008


Pistorius falls short of Beijing:
"Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius was not chosen Friday to be on South Africa's Olympic team for the Beijing Games.

Besides failing to meet the qualifying standard to run in the 400 meters, Pistorius was left off the 1,600-meter relay team."
posted by ericb at 1:31 PM on July 18, 2008


Thanks Mitheral: that was a sweet and thoughtful post, and I especially appreciated the Carlin. After such a wonderful effort at understanding, I hesitate to rejoinder with a correction, but I'm going to do so. You write that some people root for Pistorius because they associate his cause with accommodating the disabled. For my part, the objection is based in the sense that his regulatory exclusion would be based on an accommodation for the 'abled,' who suddenly find themselves inferior to a man they would otherwise judge to be 'disabled.' Put another way, we may have reached a point where the real sprinting disability is -having- feet.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:44 PM on July 18, 2008


anotherpanacea: Let us say that someone invents a swimsuit that is 50% more efficient than the current ones, so that its wearers beat every 'ordinary' human by an impossible to bridge distance. What then?

You just proved my point, ap. Here we have a case in which suits might be offering a tiny, all-but-immeasurable advantage to swimmers, and you have all the national officiating bodies in an uproar (this despite the fact that no Olympic swimmer will actually be unable to afford a $550 swimsuit--all their worried about is the fact that they're contractually obligated to use their sponsor's suits). Now, imagine if--as in my hypothetical example (which you studiously avoided engaging with, I notice)--swimsuits actually became a decisive element in swimming times, such that people with suit X were unbeatable. Clearly those suits would be banned, or else they would be mandated for all swimmers. That is precisely the solution that is unavailable in the Pistorius case.

This is not about whether he trains hard, whether he is courageous, whether he's a good guy or a bad guy; it's about the fact that he is not competing in the same sport as the other runners. It's not about whether he is getting "unfair" assistance from those legs. A bicyclist doesn't get "unfair" assistance from a bicycle--but that doesn't mean that he can have a meaningful competition with a runner or a wheelchair racer.

Again--please try to answer one of my hypothetical questions; if Pistorius takes up swimming and achieves competitive times by strapping prosthetics to his legs that have long flippers on them, would you say that he should be allowed to compete? If not, how is that different from this situation?
posted by yoink at 2:04 PM on July 18, 2008


Put another way, we may have reached a point where the real sprinting disability is -having- feet.

And that, too, concedes my point in a nutshell. If the people having feet are "disabled" relative to people like Pistorius, then the only fair competition they can have is one in which he is excluded. Just as the only fair competition that marathon runners can have is one in which the wheelchair marathoners are excluded. This is so as to make for a meaningful competition--it's not a judgment on anybody's worth or value as a human being. If more amputees take up running with those Cheetah legs then Pistorius will be able to have meaningful races against those people--and good luck to him.
posted by yoink at 2:07 PM on July 18, 2008


it appears the point is now moot, but one thing that distinguishes swimming from running is footwear. If one swimmer has footwear, they all should. Similarly, if most runners have shoes, Pistorius should be allowed to use a prosthesis.

The comparison to wheelchair marathons is disingenuous: a regular athlete can always sit down and push a wheelchair.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:16 PM on July 18, 2008


it appears the point is now moot, but one thing that distinguishes swimming from running is footwear. If one swimmer has footwear, they all should..

O.K., the one-line "are you even reading your own comments??" response here is "if one runner has springy metal cheetah feet--they all should." But let me try to spell it out a little more clearly for you:

All the swimmers have feet--those feet act--insofar as human feet are able to do so--as flippers. Ian Thorpe is famous for having enormously large feet, and it is widely held that this gives him a great advantage as a swimmer. Now, if Pistorius is going to have prosthetic "feet" what should they look like? You are happy for him as a runner to have feet that look (and perform) nothing like human feet. Why aren't you happy for him as a swimmer to have feet that look and perform nothing like ordinary human feet? Why...could it be because if he had bloody great flippers on the end of his feet he wouldn't be competing in the same kind of competition as the other swimmers?

Similarly, if most runners have shoes, Pistorius should be allowed to use a prosthesis.

Why? prostheses aren't shoes. That's like saying "if the other runners wear shoes, Pistorius should be allowed to ride a bicycle." Shoes aren't the same as prosthetic legs, therefore you can't have a meaningful "man with shoes vs. man with prosthetic legs" competition. This really isn't a terribly complex issue--it's just that you want a feel-good story, so you're choosing not to see something that is self-evident.

The comparison to wheelchair marathons is disingenuous: a regular athlete can always sit down and push a wheelchair.

Right--and any "regular athlete" who wants to compete in the wheelchair race would be free to do so. Similarly, any "regular athlete" who chooses to have his legs amputated would be free to compete in the "cheetah leg" race. Similarly, if some future surgical whizzery allowed Pistorius to have leg transplants, he'd be free to compete in the normal legged race. Because it is not about whether or not you are a good, brave, courageous person it is about whether or not you are competing in the same sport.
posted by yoink at 2:32 PM on July 18, 2008


Do people with the 'fat-switching' gene compete in the same sport as people without it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:38 PM on July 18, 2008


Do people with the 'fat-switching' gene compete in the same sport as people without it?

I've absolutely no idea what the "fat-switching" gene is, and Google doesn't either. You aren't referring to "fast-twitch" muscles, by any chance? In any event, I'm happy to answer your red-herring question while you continue to show me that you've got no answer to my hypothetical about the flippers (frankly, I can't think of a single grounds on which you'd say "yes" to the cheetah legs and "no" to the flippers--but you need to if you want to maintain your argument).

Anyway, whatever "fat-switching" genes are, the answer is easy: yes. That's the whole frigging POINT of athletic competition. We want the winner to be the one who won the gene-lotto (plus trained really really hard etc etc.). That's the whole point of everything else being as equal as we can make it. That's why we don't give springy prosthetic leg extensions to the shorter people in the NBA. If you're going to handicap for genetic advantage then you might as well let slower runners start a little closer to the finish line. Of COURSE the best sprinter in the world is genetically better adapted to sprinting than I am. That's cool--it's cool that he got a chance to develop the talent that the genetic lottery happened to gift him with. It doesn't mean he's a better, more noble, smarter, more worthy person than anyone else--it just means that in a fair competition and with incredibly dedicated training, he happens to be the best person in the world at running over a certain distance on ordinary human legs. Now, someone else may be better adapted to traveling that distance while riding a bike, if so, good for them. Or better adapted at traveling that distance while leaping hurdles, if so, good for them. Or better adapted at traveling that distance through water in a pool, if so, good for them. Or with their legs amputated and wearing "cheetah" leg prosthetics, if so, good for them. It doesn't, however, mean that there is any point in racing any one of these people against any one of the others.
posted by yoink at 4:09 PM on July 18, 2008


Seconding what yoink has been saying, here. Anotherpanacea, I'm sorry, but your arguments don't make a lot of sense.

First, the idea that Cheetah Legs == Good Running Shoes is nonsense. They're not even remotely equivalent. That's like saying that in a bicycle race, one racer should be allowed to ride a motorcycle. It's a two-wheeled tranportation device, right? So what's the difference? And besides, the motorcycle rider has no legs and can't ride a conventional bicycle, so not letting him ride a motocycle prejudices things in favor of the "normal" people! Terrible!

The problem is that the other people AREN'T ALLOWED to ride a motorcycle, so yes, IT WOULD BE EXCEPTIONALISM IN FAVOR OF THAT ONE GUY. And the response (which a number of people have essentially said here) that of course others would also be allowed to ride a motorcycle if they cut their own legs off, is completely silly.

Either everyone gets to ride a motorcycle, or no one does, whether or not they have legs. Same with the Cheetah Legs, *whether or not* anyone else cuts their legs off. The people who are pretending that athletes with legs couldn't wear something like this which would extend their stride and speed are being disingenuous or deliberately obtuse. And that makes it, as yoink points out, a different sport.

Second, and on a similar note, Pistorius is most certainly already allowed to wear running shoes anyway, just like everyone else. They just don't do him a lot of good. So?

Third, your question about genetics seems to indicate that you haven't really been paying attention to anything yoink, I, and others have been saying. This isn't about fairness in that sense. It never was, and sports never were, and really probably shouldn't be. What would be the point?

Fourth, the statement "people who make the rules can't hide behind the rules" only holds true if there's no reason for the rules other than their existence, e.g. "It's not allowed because we say it's not allowed." Plenty of bad rules have been protested, and sometimes changed or eliminated for this reason, sure. There are, however, good reasons for a rule to exist in this case, outside of the mere existence of a rule. Several of them are in essence mentioned in various posts above.
posted by kyrademon at 7:28 PM on July 18, 2008


kyrademon: I'm going to take your points in order, since you were so kind to list them that way.

the idea that Cheetah Legs == Good Running Shoes is nonsense. They're not even remotely equivalent.

Equivalent is a funny word to use here, and I think it expresses the problem. The two things are different, that's clear. They're not the same thing. The question is if there's a difference that makes a difference between them. Is the difference a difference in kind or in quantity? The difference between a bicycle and a motorcycle is the source of the power: one draws its energy from internal combustion, another from the rider's own muscles. Pistorius has to 'power' his legs himself, and he has to do it using fewer muscles than ordinary runners. So that's not it.

The difference may be in 'energy return,' which many people here have referred to as an unfair 'spring' in his step. But this is exactly what shoes do: they maximize energy return and minimize energy dissipation, working along with your tendons to minimize energy loss and maximize springiness. If there's a difference between Pistorius' prosthetics and the human foot/shoe combo, it's a difference in quantity, not kind. In that sense, his prosthetics are 'equivalent' to the human foot/shoe combo insofar as they are functionally similar. So it's not -nonsense- to argue for equivalence, even if you happen to disagree with it.

The people who are pretending that athletes with legs couldn't wear something like this which would extend their stride and speed are being disingenuous or deliberately obtuse.

Could a legged athlete wear carbon-fiber prostheses? Perhaps, but I think they'd find it was a lot less effective than you're claiming. They work for Pistorius because they're replacing the ankle joint. As I'd understand it, they'd backfire for an ordinary athlete just as running in shoes with a thick sole would: the gains from height and energy return would be lost in the biomechanics. But if they could really make shoes that did this, why shouldn't they? You've claimed it would be a different sport, but as I see it, running is a sport that tests perambulation at speed. Pistorius and Merritt both perambulate, while cycling, rollerskating, and whatever other ad absurdum example you care to list are not perambulatory activities. If the essence of running is autoperambulation, then both Pistorius and an ordinary runner are, well, running. They're both competing in the same sport.

Pistorius is most certainly already allowed to wear running shoes anyway, just like everyone else. They just don't do him a lot of good.

Running shoes are usually corrective in some way. A runner overpronates, so they correct for this. As I argued above, his prosthetics don't do anything a running shoe and foot wouldn't do, but they correct for a slightly larger defect in his stride. I think that's neat, you think don't, apparently.

This isn't about fairness in that sense. It never was, and sports never were, and really probably shouldn't be.

You suggest that fairness due to genetic distinctions ought not to figure in to sport. Yet as I argue above, shoes are allowed to be used to correct for defects in stride, many of which are genetic in origin. Which is it?

the statement "people who make the rules can't hide behind the rules" only holds true if there's no reason for the rules other than their existence, e.g. "It's not allowed because we say it's not allowed."


We are debating the principles behind the rules, treating ourselves as hypothetical rulemakers. At the very least, this allows us to inquire into the nature of sport, competition, and fairness, which are laudable activities. At best, our deliberations about what the rules ought to be will effect what they become. In any case, people ought not to hide behind rules in a free society, because all rules express reasons for action that are subject to reflection and amendation by rational beings. So yes, my statement holds true.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:11 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have to be quick, since I need to catch a plane, but I'll respond to one point:

"You suggest that fairness due to genetic distinctions ought not to figure in to sport."

I never said that. You are greatly misinterpreting what I wrote if you think I did.

We seem to be having a fundamental communication problem. I will try to think about how to better explain what I mean.
posted by kyrademon at 8:55 PM on July 18, 2008


Well, he failed to qualify, so there you go.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:12 PM on July 18, 2008


I never said that. You are greatly misinterpreting what I wrote if you think I did.

I went back and looked. This is what you said: "...better genetics are considered "fair" advantages because -- and solely because -- they are allowed within the rules, and the rules apply to everyone the same."

So you're right, you never said I what I attributed to you, you actually just retreated to a argument from 'the rules.' However, I suspect what you want to say is what I said: that fairness means creating a level playing field in which differences in genetics, training, talent, and discipline are allowed to result in winners and losers. This is what I meant when I said, a little bit awkwardly, that "fairness due to genetic distinctions ought not to figure in to sport." What I meant to suggest was that you believe that genetic distinctions need not be corrected for in order to level the playing field. Natural athletes don't need to be hobbled to compete with average joes, etc.

However, as I pointed out, we do correct for some genetic distinctions, specifically those that affect gate and stride and are fixable using orthotics and clever shoe design. My point is simply that Pistorius' prosthetics do the same thing, for a somewhat more severe deficit, but in a functionally and essentially equivalent manner.

We seem to be having a fundamental communication problem.

Perhaps this is true, but it is also possible that we disagree and that you are so persuaded that your opinion is the only right one that you cannot imagine that reasonably intelligent people would disagree, so instead of listening to and considering my arguments, you merely seek to find the flaw. This is certainly the way that others in the thread have dealt with the disagreement.

How about this: when next you rejoin the conversation, see if you can define what you think is the essence of the sport that runners compete in. Give a positive description of what runners do, and then see if Pistorius is excluded from that description. We can all think of outlandish things that -aren't- running: it's not swimming, or motorbiking, or hang-gliding, or chair-wheeling. But what -is- running? What is it, essentially? If it helps, try to think of why runners do not simply compete at rapidly perambulating over a set distance, which is the definition I have offered.

It also may help if you begin by jettisoning the pretension that our disagreement is a failure on my part that proves that I must be "either disingenuous or deliberately obtuse."
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:35 PM on July 18, 2008


Anotherpanacea: Fair enough. I will stop assuming those things about you. However, I still believe, based on what you have just said, that you may be missing the gist of what I have been saying. If after reading this, you disagree, please feel free to correct my misapprehensions.

Here is where, I think, there have been some misinterpretations, based on your post above:

"I suspect what you want to say is what I said: that fairness means creating a level playing field in which differences in genetics, training, talent, and discipline are allowed to result in winners and losers."

No. I don't care about that at all. Fairness means the same rules apply to all people (each player, or each team, depending on which are competing.) If the rule is "the richest person wins", then that is the rule for that sport. If the rule is "the person who comes in third wins", then that is the rule for that sport. I do not care if the rules are intended to highlight genetics, training, talent, discipline, number of toes, alien implants, or knowledge of swiss cheese manufacture. My only concern is that the same rules apply to all people. That is why I keep "retreating" to an argument from "the rules". The rules are, as far as I am concerned, the only element that matters, because rules completely define a competitive game -- that is the nature of competitive games -- and sports are a competitive game.

Therefore:

"What I meant to suggest was that you believe that genetic distinctions need not be corrected for in order to level the playing field"

is not accurate, because I do not care about a level playing field, except insofar as rules are concerned. Similarly:

"Natural athletes don't need to be hobbled to compete with average joes, etc. "

This is only true insofar as I think "hobbling" one player while not "hobbling" another player in direct competition would mean the same rules are not being applied to all players.

"We do correct for some genetic distinctions, specifically those that affect gate and stride and are fixable using orthotics and clever shoe design."

Which bothers me not at all, as all players are able to use those shoes.

"My point is simply that Pistorius' prosthetics do the same thing, for a somewhat more severe deficit, but in a functionally and essentially equivalent manner."

And this, I think, points to where our disagreement actually lies.

You are saying you believe that there is a de facto rule which essentially states: "In this sport, genetic distinctions that affect gate and stride may be corrected with external mechanical devices."

I believe that this is an incorrect interpretation of the rules as they currently exist, and that it is incorrect to the extent that adding this rule alters the sport to the degree that it is a completely different sport. Which would be fine, and why I have consistently said that if all players were allowed to strap mechanical devices to their legs, that would be peachy. It would simply be a different sport.

The current written rule is actually something on the order of, "In this sport, players may wear shoes made of certain materials constructed in certain ways." Why do Pistorius' Cheetah Legs not count? Because they are 1) not shoes, 2) not made of those materials, and 3) not constructed in those ways. Therefore, they are not allowed any more than a pogo stick would be. They're not in the rules.

Now, so as not to solely "retreat to the rules" -- even though the rules are frankly all I care about -- let us create a hypothetical new rule that would allow the legs, so that I can explain why it is a bad rule in the only sense I think matters. In other words, rather than just say "it's the rules", let's look at why "it's the rules". Let's make that rule say that any player who wishes can use Cheetah Legs, and then define them in such a way that only players who lack legs are capable of using them. Would that work for me?

No. It is functionally the same as a rule which "hobbles" certain players. It actually applies to some players but not to all. Since it does not really apply equally, it cannot be a rule.

Ah-ha! you may argue. But runners are allowed to wear shoes, which increase their speed, and these shoes are useless for Pistorius! They are given a rules advantage he cannot have, just as a rule allowing the Cheetah Legs would do for him! What is the difference?

There are arguments that could be made here, but instead, I will simply say ... yes, I agree. Rules allowing running shoes are fundamentally unfair to runners with no feet. It hasn't come up before. If you want to argue that in any race where a runner with no feet qualifies, the other runners should not be allowed to wear shoes, just as that runner should not be allowed to use Cheetah Legs, I think it's certainly worth considering whenever it comes up.

Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear ... I NEVER said Pistorius should not be allowed to run. I said he should not be allowed to run in a race where all other players are not allowed to use whatever mechanical assistance they wish. That would be a fair rule, since it would apply to everyone, and would most likely give the race to whoever had the best technology, which could be very interesting. But it would be, as some have pointed out, a difference sport from the one currently being discussed. Because it would have different rules.

If you wish to create that sport, go crazy. If you claim it is the sport already in discussion, I respectfully disagree.
posted by kyrademon at 4:26 AM on July 19, 2008


kyrademon, you wrote above that:

Plenty of bad rules have been protested, and sometimes changed or eliminated for this reason, sure. There are, however, good reasons for a rule to exist in this case, outside of the mere existence of a rule.

I agreed with the sentiment that rules are always rules for good or bad reasons, and that we ought to have rules we can defend for good reasons. However, in your most recent response, you wrote something very different. In a series of short responses, you rejected all possible 'reasons' for rules regarding shoes in running.

You are saying you believe that there is a de facto rule which essentially states: "In this sport, genetic distinctions that affect gate and stride may be corrected with external mechanical devices."

Here, I think, you must be being disingenuous or deliberately obtuse. As I detailed above, the Cheetahs are not 'mechanical.' They are not simple machines, they are neither levers, nor nor pulleys, nor wedges, nor wheel & axle, nor inclined planes, nor screws. They are not mechanized or motorized, either: Pistorius supplies all the power used during his run. So they are by no available definition 'mechanical,' yet you insist on using that term and analogies to mechanical devices.

Moreover, I did not call this a 'defacto rule,' but rather the principle that underlies and legitimates any more detailed rule that the IAAF might make. You offer no such principle. Instead, you end with this: the rules are frankly all I care about, and you detail two possible 'rules,' one of which excludes Pistorius, and the other, you allege, which excludes legged runners. I dispute this claim. I don't feel it necessary to exclude ordinary runners in the way you insist on excluding Pistorius. However, I suspect, as a matter of biomechanics, that an ordinary runner with Cheetahs or any other carbon-fiber blade, could not run as fast as a he or she would without them, just as runners could not exchange shoes and run at their best times.

Worse, you had previously promised to inquire with me into the principles and reasons BEHIND the rules. As I've been trying to explain, you cannot 'retreat' or 'hide' behind the rules, because once there, you find that there is actually a coherent logic attached to a fairly critical set of assumption, reasons, and principles. I'm asking you merely to tell me what you see 'back there,' binding the rules together and making them just.

if all players were allowed to strap mechanical devices to their legs, that would be peachy. It would simply be a different sport.

How can you know what sport they compete at when you seem not to know what running is? I have said that all the rules for Olympic running should derive from an understanding of what running essentially is. I have offerered as a definition "rapid perambulation." The rules are legitimate and just insofar as they allow all those who rapidly perambulate to compete together.

Simply giving the 'rule' won't tell us whether the rule is just or unjust, whether the sport is one or many. Is the Designated Hitter rule 'essential' to baseball? Rules on these issues are clearly contingent: during the World Series, they'll play by whichever DH rules the home team prefers. So a rule that excludes someone from play ought to be narrowly tailored to create a competition tied to the essentials of the sport. Is walking the course 'essential' to golf? Well, no.

Now, again, I ask you to define what you think is the essence of the sport that runners compete in. Give a positive description of what runners do, and then see if Pistorius is excluded from that description. I suspect that a principled, just rule will emerge from the ideals of athletics and the specific practice of running. But so long as you insist that rules can have no basis that makes them just or unjust, we won't make progress towards that goal.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:06 AM on July 19, 2008


So, anotherpanacea. I see you still have absolutely no reply to why Pistorius shouldn't be allowed prosthetic flippers if he takes up swimming.
posted by yoink at 7:12 AM on July 19, 2008


I see you still have absolutely no reply to why Pistorius shouldn't be allowed prosthetic flippers if he takes up swimming.

I gave you a reply. You just weren't willing to accept it. The reason is simply that swimming does not involve foot gear, while running does.

Now be quiet while grownups talk, ok?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2008


Anotherpanacea--that's simply a dodge. If Pistorius took up swimming, he would have to have his prosthetic legs take some form, right? Why should he be restricted in the pool to have legs that look like human legs, but not be so restricted on the race track? There's no equivalency at all between running shoes and cheetah legs and its absurd to pretend that that is an adequate response to the issue.

Are you saying that no amputee should ever be allowed to swim using prosthetics? Or are you saying that they should be allowed to compete, but only if their prosthetics are made to look like normal human limbs? Come on, it's a pretty simple question.
posted by yoink at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2008


If Pistorius took up swimming, he would have to have his prosthetic legs take some form, right? [...] Are you saying that no amputee should ever be allowed to swim using prosthetics?

What part of 'swimming does not involve foot gear' did you not understand? As things stand, it's a pretty open and shut case: a prosthesis is corrective foot gear. Such foot gear is allowed to runners but not to swimmers. If ordinary swimmers got foot gear, I would expect you to offer them to legless swimmers as well.

In any case, you're just changing the subject. Why should we talk about swimming when you can't even figure out what running is?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:44 AM on July 19, 2008


O.K. ap, I can see that you're going to cling desperately to the "but cheetah legs are just footwear" figleaf. Do you want a quick mental test to prove to yourself that this really isn't the issue? Ask yourself "would I still want Pistorius to compete if Olympic runners were required to run barefoot--Zola Budd style." You know that the answer is yes, so therefore you also know that your objection to the swimming comparison is bogus.

But, hey, whatever floats your boat. "Must use footwear" eh? Great--I can live with that. So...highjumpers wear footwear, right? Should Pistorius be allowed to wear 1.5m long "jumping legs" and become the world's best highjumper? Hey, it's just footwear, right?

Now--rather than looking for some irrelevant loophole in this hypothetical case, why not try to actually engage with the point. An interesting response would be to tell me just what would, in your view, be acceptable legs for Pistorius to use if he took up highjumping. Obviously you'd rule out giant springs--right?

But as soon as you rule out the giant springs (which are just the same as the flippers for the swimmers btw), then you're conceding my point. You're taking a different sport and then placing an arbitrary handicap on it to make it look roughly comparable to another sport. Sure, you might be able to craft legs that make Pistorius merely a world-class jumper rather than "the best ever"--but then you're back to the problem of racing a runner against someone on a bicycle pulling a weight behind them to slow them down. Yes, they might have similar times over, say, 100m--but it doesn't mean that the race will be a meaningful one. And THAT is the problem with Pistorius as a runner. He's competing in a different event which just happens to look similar to running and which happens to turn in times that are roughly comparable.
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2008


Oh, by the way, ap, I forgot to address something you said to kyrademon:

If the essence of running is autoperambulation, then both Pistorius and an ordinary runner are, well, running. They're both competing in the same sport.

Racewalking and running are both "autoperambulation," would you suggest that they are "the same sport"?

Oh, what's that? In race walking you operate your legs slightly differently from the way you do it in running? Well well...fancy that. Slightly different leg operation makes for a completely different sport. Who would have thought it? My my--what a world we live in.

Good thing for your argument that there's just no visible difference between the way that Pistorius's cheetah legs operate and the way a normal leg operates, then, isn't it?
posted by yoink at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2008


An interesting response would be to tell me just what would, in your view, be acceptable legs for Pistorius to use if he took up highjumping.

You're so very demanding! Try to understand that I find it difficult to figure out just one sport, yet you drag me from athletic event to athletic event, asking, "But what about this one?" "But what about this one?" I just can't keep up! Now you'd have us jettison both running AND swimming, without having come to a proper understanding of either one, and move on to high jumping? I'm terribly sorry, but I'm so exhausted. I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm talking to Meno...

Perhaps you could help me? I'm not as young as I used to be, and I sometimes need help up these steep intellectual stairs. If this is the question you want to answer, then let's try to answer it! Again, it seems, we've asked the wrong question to start. Before we can know what legs a man needs to perform in a competition, we must first know what the competition IS. What is high jumping, in essence? Try to really answer that question, instead of rushing forward, willy-nilly, to define the proper attire for a high jumper without even knowing what a high jumper must do!
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:55 PM on July 19, 2008


I'm sure you're going somewhere with this. Here's the wikipedia definition of high jump:

The high jump is an athletics (track and field) event in which competitors must jump over a horizontal bar placed at measured heights without the aid of any devices.

I'm guessing you think you got me with "without the aid of any devices." But remember how desperately you're clinging to "shoes are prosthetic devices that aid runners--just the same as Pistorius's cheetah legs!" High jumpers wear shoes. If cheetah legs are just the same as shoes, then why can't he wear special legs in the high jump?

Suddenly, I suppose, your position is that shoes really don't do much of anything--after all, they perform hardly any mechanical function at all. I agree with that. That's why your comparison of shoes with the cheetah legs in running is utterly bogus. Now, you have a nice choice. Either you say "shoes and prosthetic legs are completely incomparable" and destroy all your arguments wrt to running or you say "shoes and prosthetic legs are exactly the same" and you have to let Pistorius wear some kind of prosthetic legs if he wants to become a high jumper.

So, again, rather than desperately trying to find the point where they hypothetical instance is less than a perfect fit, try to actually address the burden of the argument. Tell me what you think would be a "fair" form for a high-jumping prosthetic. Or do you say that no one with Pistorius's condition should ever be allowed to aspire to become a high-jumper. Runner, yes, highjumper or swimmer, no? Is that your position?
posted by yoink at 1:04 PM on July 19, 2008


Oh, and p.s., part of the rules of Olympic running are that runners are not allowed to use any mechanical devices (e.g. bicycles). If you think that proviso automatically rules Pistorius out of the high jump, it also automatically rules him out of running.
posted by yoink at 1:06 PM on July 19, 2008


Oh the young! It's fine when an old man has a bad memory, but for a young one to be so forgetful...

Here's what I wrote, above:

the Cheetahs are not 'mechanical.' They are not simple machines, they are neither levers, nor nor pulleys, nor wedges, nor wheel & axle, nor inclined planes, nor screws. They are not mechanized or motorized, either: Pistorius supplies all the power used during his run. So they are by no available definition 'mechanical.'

Yet perhaps this is the heart of the matter. You believe that the cheetahs are a 'device.' I have tried to explain that they are not. But if I must continually repeat myself, I doubt we'll make much progress here....
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:10 PM on July 19, 2008


Oh, silly me, so forgetful. Here you went to all the trouble of searching wikipedia for a definition of the high jump, and I didn't respond with a thoughtful and reflective comment on it.

I'm not sure it's the kind of definition we need, unfortunately. For us to know what the high jump competition is, we'd have to be able to say more about it than just what it involves, that there are bars and jumping. We should be able to say what it is to jump, I think. For us to make headway on what has become of your question, we must determine what jumping is.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:16 PM on July 19, 2008


Ap, I'm not the one claiming that the cheetahs are "mechanical." If you say they're not mechanical, then great--that makes my highjumping example absolutely perfect. You would, I take it, have no objection to him crafting 1.5m high versions of the cheetah legs (still not "mechanical" by your definition" and becoming the world high jumping champion. Is that right?

I don't see why we have to determine "what jumping is." It seems pretty self-evident to me. No doubt you see some particular definitional problem here, however, that will let you squirm away from the issue at hand one more time. If you do, why not say what it is rather than waste everybody's time--particularly mine--insisting that I guess what you're trying to get at.

Or you could stop desperately searching for some kind of loophole and address the issue at hand--why is acceptable for a man with no legs to strap on metal ones which in no way resemble or replicate the action of ordinary human legs and then compete in a running competition, but not acceptable for the same man to strap on metal legs which in no way resemble or replicate the action of ordinary human legs and then become a high-jumper or a swimmer or what have you?
posted by yoink at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2008


Anotherpanacea:

I could easily come up with a reasonable definition of running that did not include what Pistorius does. All I would have to do would be to have one that includes something that refers to certain movements of the human knee and ankle. Plenty of sports have definitions just that specific, such as swimming, which needs to distinguish between certain very specific forms. For instance, here's a definition of running from the dictionary: "to go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground." It refers to feet, which Pistorius does not have.

I could also easily come up with a reasonable definition of running that does include what Pistorius does.

The reason I did not is because I consider the question irrelevant.

Incidentally, I could also easily come up with a defintion of "mechanical" that includes both shoes and the legs, especially since your arbitrary definition of mechanical is extremely limited, unlike your arbitrary definition of running. For example, the dictionary definition "relating to, produced by, or dominated by physical forces". But I also consider whether or not shoes are "mechanical" to be irrelevant. Read a different word in that post if you don't like it, or eliminate it altogether. It makes no difference to what I said.

The reason I consider your questions about "the essence of running" irrelevant is that I really don't care what running is, or whether what Pistorius does is running. I really only, only, only care that the rules apply to everone equally. Given that, I do not care what the rules are, or even why they exist. That's because a competitive sport consists, and consists solely of, rules that apply to everyone equally.

My argument is that you cannot let Pistorius run in the sport as it currently exists without introducing a rule that applies only to him or to a limited number of people. It is not possible. Therefore the reasons for the rule, the nature of the sport, the definition of mechanical, the function of a shoe, and your inability to answer yoink's fair and obvious questions pointing out the holes in your logic, are not relevant to my argument at all, and your continued harping on them in response frustrates me. Change the rule FOR EVERYONE and let Pistorius run (in a now different sport), or don't change the rule and don't let him run.

And I had no arguments "against shoes". I argued that, by my own logic, shoes would be unfair in a certain specific situation which would never come up, in order to torpedo an obvious argument "against shoes" which I thought someone paying attention might make.

Anyway, I'm done trying to explain my thoughts. Enjoy the rest of the argument!
posted by kyrademon at 2:41 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


(One more -- in a nutshell, I think the argument is this:

Anotherpanacea: Cheetah legs are a form of shoe, so Pistorius should be allowed to run, since runners can wear shoes.

Others: No they aren't. They have a different shape, composition, form, application, and placement from a shoe. Your attempt to define a shoe as "any device that corrects genetic deficiencies in gate and stride" is obviously too broad and encompasses many things which are not shoes by any normal definition, and what Cheetah Legs do are not only functionally different, replacing the ankle entirely rather than supplementing its action in a minor way, but they are both qualitatively and quantitatively different -- and the quantitative aspect alone is enough to disqualify them. Their use both violates the spirit and letter of the rules [my argument] and the nature and practical definition of running as a sport [yoink's argument], and a comparison with other similar sports immediately makes apparent that they are not the precise equivalent of legs in shoes, but are in fact a different form of external device entirely, to the extent that a "race" between the two is a "race" between two people operating under fundamentally different rules the start.

Anotherpanacea: Yes, they are., because I have created a definition of "running" and "shoes" that includes Pistorius.

Yeah ... I'm done here.)
posted by kyrademon at 3:07 PM on July 19, 2008


Hey kyrademon: you're right. ap is just not interested in trying to understand the point we're making. S/he wants Pistorius to run and will bend the argument any way necessary to achieve that outcome. I think I'll follow your example and ditch this. After a while the "la la la la la la I can't heeaaaaarrrr you" stuff just gets tedious. Especially from someone who is telling you to go away and let the grown ups (hah!) argue.

Last word: let's hope that lots of people deprived of normal legs benefit from the research that Pistorius has spurred. Let's hope further than enough of them become elite cheetah-leg athletes so that that can become a self-sustaining sport in its own right. That would be cool.
posted by yoink at 3:58 PM on July 19, 2008


I could easily come up with a reasonable definition of running that did not include what Pistorius does. [...] I could also easily come up with a reasonable definition of running that does include what Pistorius does. The reason I did not is because I consider the question irrelevant.

So, both of you acknowledge that you don't even know WHAT RUNNING IS, but you're absolutely convinced that Pistorius isn't doing it? Moreover, you've decided that your ignorance in this matter is actually a virtue! Good luck with that.

As yoink says with all the unreflective irony of youth: after a while the "la la la la la la I can't heeaaaaarrrr you" stuff just gets tedious.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:09 PM on July 20, 2008


« Older In March 2007, the FermiLab Office of Public Affai...  |  Suspect Soldiers.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments