(Photo by Anthony Devlin / Fast Track Agency via Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius will be the first ever amputee athlete to compete at the world track and field championships to be held in Daegu, South Korea, August 27th to September 2nd. Pistorius, sometimes called the ‘Blade Runner’, due to the two custom made carbon fiber prosthetics on which he races, has been fighting for years to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes. He will compete in both the 400m and the 4x400m relay.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) originally banned Pistorius because they believed his prosthetics gave him an unfair advantage. That ban was overturned, allowing the South African athlete to try out for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, however he failed to qualify. Last month, according to a report on ESPN, during his last chance to reach the 400m qualifying time of 45.25, Pistorius destroyed his personal best of 45.61 and crossed the line in 45.07. That huge personal cleared him to represent South Africa at the upcoming worlds. From ESPN:
“I have dreamt for such a long time of competing in a major championships and this is a very proud moment in my life,” Pistorius said in a statement. “It is an honor to be representing my country at such a prestigious event and I hope to do my best at the competition for South Africa.”
Oscar’s story raises challenging issues facing modern sport and, indeed, modern society. His desire to achieve his dream, despite physical hardship is inspiring and without modern technology it would be simply impossible. On the one hand Oscar Pistorius stands to inspire, as he should. But on the other hand, we are quickly reaching a point where this and other technologies might indeed give an unfair advantage. Perhaps Pistorius’ ‘Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs‘ are not yet technologically superior to an athlete competing without mechanical aid, but soon they will be – and we as an athletic community will have to be ready to deal with that.
I would like to point out, that while deciding how or if to regulate technology is not easy, I still am very much in favor of this process. The fact that we live in a time when we actually have to have this discussion is remarkable and all of our lives will be better off for these advances. This is a fantastic problem to have but it is still important that we tackle these issues – sport should be as a fair a place as possible. Obviously, sport never is completely fair, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t our duty to try and make it more so.
UPDATE: I’ve added my favorite video of Oscar. It is from a Nike commercial called ‘Bad Listener’ My favorite part is at the end when you see Pistorius leaning around the track.