My gut reaction on seeing double amputee Oscar Pistorius jump out of the blocks for the 400 meter race in London was A) wow, those legs look a lot cooler than the clunky old wooden leg my Uncle Joe used to wear in the 1970′s (uncle Joe lost his leg at 13 in a truck crash), and B) this is so freaking inspirational!
This is what the Olympic Games are all about.
Tune in around second 50 for the excitement.
A couple hours later, with a calmer gut, I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, was this actually fair, or had world sport just opened a Pandora’s Box?”
25 year old Pistorius was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee before he was a year old. Clearly, in the world of athletics, he started life 50 meters behind everyone else. But enter the high tech carbon fiber blades which Pistorius used two decades later, and ‘The Blade Runner” has won four Paralympic gold medals and placed second in his initial heat for the London 2012 400 m race, before ending up last in the semi-finals.
How do his peers feel about this? Depends on who you ask. World champion Kirani James says, “I really respect and admire the guy. I just see him as another competitor, and more importantly I see him as another person.” Kirani finished first ahead of Pistorius in the prelims.
Nigel Levine, another 400 meter competitor, said, ”I’ll keep my opinion to myself on that one,” when asked if Pistorius had an advantage. Levine, too, made it to the semi-finals, but not the finals.
Did Pistorius’ prosthetic legs give him an unfair advantage?
After dozens of difficult hearings with Olympic officials, the powers that be said “no.” But clearly the writing is on the wall: at some point someone will design something that is superior to what nature and gruelling training alone can provide.
Where is the line to be drawn?
I admit I haven’t thought it through carefully: the bands of tape on the backs of divers? Doesn’t bug me. The heavy duty wrist guards gymnasts wear? Again, no problem. Steroids, HGH and the rest? Big, big problem – where’s my asterisk stamp? What it comes down to for me is the question of equal access to whatever technologies are out there.
If EVERYBODY was required to take steroids, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. If EVERY cyclist had to rice on the same1870 model bicycle, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
But that isn’t the case. And there are way too many shades of gray!
Damn you Oscar: you confound and inspire, all in the same 45.44 seconds!