May 21, 2008

a (prosthetic) leg up?

Tim Keown isn't too happy about a recent ruling allowing Oscar Pistorius to run in the Olympics.
Should he be allowed to compete? Of course not. This really isn't that difficult. Pistorius is running on artificial legs, wonders of technology instead of flesh and bone. It's simply not the same.

If a legless swimmer showed up at a meet with carbon-fiber flippers, would that be all right? If a legless high-jumper used spring-loaded Cheetahs, would that be allowed?

The truth is, Pistorius has an event, and it's called the Paralympics. It's not an insult to him to suggest that he compete in that event rather than the Olympics. The Paralympians are amazing -- usually more amazing than their able-bodied counterparts.

Pistorius is a fantastic athlete, and his story is a hell of a lot more gripping than the average professional athlete's. His accomplishments are vital; those of the able-bodied are merely inspirational.

So yes, it's a great story.

Just not an Olympic story.
Keown is right to wonder where this all stops, but, surprisingly, he doesn't discuss the substance of the ruling. Cleverly designed research demonstrated that, at least aerobically, Pistorius possesses no apparent advantage over any naturally-equipped runner.
If the Cheetahs gave Pistorius an advantage, he would burn fewer calories while performing at the same level as other athletes.

To find out, Weyland's team measured how much oxygen Pistorius consumed as he ran at a moderate pace on a laboratory treadmill.

They found that although he used oxygen more efficiently than many elite runners, he wasn't off the charts, and many distance runners do better. "Does he run cheaper than everyone else? The answer is no," Weyand says.
Scientists aren't sure whether the Cheetahs are "bouncier" than bone, returning more kinetic energy when striking the running surface.

We face a brave new world of gene doping, drugs, wonder-prosthetics, and, someday, nanotechnologized everything. When we're all cybernetic organisms, I guess this this debate won't even matter.

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