Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An Amputee Sprinter: Is He Disabled or Too-Abled?

NYT reported As Oscar Pistorius of South Africa crouched in the starting blocks for the 200 meters on Sunday, the small crowd turned its attention to the sprinter who calls himself the fastest man on no legs. Pistorius wants to be the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. But despite his ascendance, he is facing resistance from track and field’s world governing body, which is seeking to bar him on the grounds that the technology of his prosthetics may give him an unfair advantage over sprinters using their natural legs.
Let him compete. And then see how many able bodied athletes ask to have their legs cut off so that they can be like him.
... “The rule book says a foot has to be in contact with the starting block,” Leon Fleiser, a general manager of the South African Olympic Committee, said. “What is the definition of a foot? Is a prosthetic device a foot, or is it an actual foot?”
And do the current athletes have contact between their foot and the starting block, or is there a shoe between the two?
I.A.A.F. officials have also expressed concern that Pistorius could topple over, obstructing others or injuring himself and fellow competitors. Some also fear that, without limits on technological aids, able-bodied runners could begin wearing carbon-fiber plates or other unsuitably springy devices in their shoes.
They can avoid that by defining how the devices have to be attached.
... Historically, the I.A.A.F. has placed limits on devices that assist athletes. It prohibits an array of performance-enhancing drugs. And it does not allow wheelchair athletes into the Olympic marathon, given that wheels provide a clear advantage in speed.
I can see how a marathoner can be tired, and having a chair to sit in is good, but the legs are more powerful than the arms, so I don't see why a wheelchair athlete should not be able to compete. If it is such an advantage, let everyone compete in wheelchairs if they want.
But the governing body has also embraced technological advances. For instance, it permits athletes to sleep in tent-like devices designed to simulate high altitude and increase oxygen-carrying capacity.... “You have two competing issues — fair competition and basic human rights to compete,” said Angela Schneider, a sports ethicist at the University of Western Ontario and a 1984 Olympic silver medalist in rowing. The I.A.A.F. must objectively define when prosthetic devices “go from therapy to enhancement,” Schneider said. The danger of acting hastily, she said, is “you deny a guy’s struggle against all odds — one of the fundamental principles of the Olympics.”

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