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Oscar Pistorius marks a minor tipping point in sports history

Oscar Pistorius is a South African who has had the lower half of both his legs amputated, and participates in atheletic events with the use of artificial limbs. He has been banned from this year’s Olympic Games because the International Association of Atheletic Federations has rules that his artificial legs give him a ‘significant advantage’ over his able-bodied rivals. He uses carbon fibre blades to race.

A study, carried out by Professor Peter Bruggeman at the German Sport University in Cologne, compared Pistorius with five able-bodied athletes of similar ability.

“Pistorius was able to run with his prosthetic blades at the same speed as the able-bodied sprinters with about 25 percent less energy expenditure,” the report concluded.

This is a small but significant point where an athelete using artificial limbs now has an advantage over normal-bodied atheletes. I doubt that his artificial limbs give him an advantage in day to day life, but in this narrow field, Pistorius does seem to get an edge. I think this is going to be the start of a wider trend.

20 comments to Oscar Pistorius marks a minor tipping point in sports history

  • Max

    Given the problems with controlling all sorts of enhancements over the years it may be time to split the Olympics – or all sports – into traditional and open categories. Traditional is without enhancements (drugs, blood doping, prosthetics, whatever). Open class is open to whatever you can think of doing to improve performance.

  • pete

    I’m glad the research was carried out at a German university and not at a UK one with my tax cash. Most people couldn’t care less about the Olympics and wouldn’t mind if donkeys, cheetahs or terrapins were allowed to compete alongside the athletes.

    I don’t want any of my money investigating cases like that of Mr Pistorius. It’s about time the Olympics financed itself like most sports events. That it doesn’t says one thing to me – hardly anyone is intersted except the well paid administrators, the participants and a very few fans. Why should the rest of us be roped in to help out?

  • That is truly fascinating! I wonder when people will start removing biological bits and ‘upgrading’ voluntarily? Our transhuman future might not be so far off after all. Cool.

  • Bruce Hoult

    He holds the world records for disabled athletes for 100m, 200m and 400m, and is faster than Olympic winning times in the 1920’s, but he’s several seconds slower than modern Olympic winning times

  • lucklucky

    “That is truly fascinating! I wonder when people will start removing biological bits and ‘upgrading’ voluntarily? Our transhuman future might not be so far off after all. Cool.”

    That is inevitable, we already have drugs – legal and illegal . There are some persons that might want to stay like they came. But better sight, hear, brain, reinforced muscles, resistence to shock, jumping like a cat, etc will change many.Also lack energy or lack of food is present the more chances it will be done.

  • countingcats

    Yeah, this was on the news here last night, the blades are fascinating, he has springs where his lower legs should be. In just watching him run it is clear that they give an advantage.

    It is unlikely anyone will cut their legs off in order to gain an advantage like this, but with enhancements in variable focusing optics, drugs to enhance memory/brain capability and advanced hearing aids, how long before healthy people start having themselves artificially enhanced by choice? I bet a fiver it will be within ten years.

    Hell, people already take steroids, and we know those work.

  • Wow. And to think I almost skipped it as just another sports post!

    I don’t think that dividing competitions into enhanced and un-enhanced would work:you are going to face the same problems in the un-enhanced you are facing today, along with new problems in the enhanced category.

  • AndyMo

    Bit disappointed about this as am a fellow countryman.

    What then of athletes wearing modern running shoes which Nike promises ‘adds a spring in the runners step’?

    What about swimming costumes that cover the entire body reducing friction?

    Why are these aids allowed.

  • ian

    Go back to the Greeks and compete naked. It might boost the audiences for some events

  • ian

    Pete said:

    Most people couldn’t care less about the Olympics and wouldn’t mind if donkeys, cheetahs or terrapins were allowed to compete alongside the athletes.

    Nonsense. These developments are of huge benefit to anyone with a disability. It isn’t anything to do with sport other than the fact that someone who even 10 years ago would have been crippled can now compete at an international level. Apply that to just getting around and the benefits are enormous – and believe me I speak from direct experience, since there are days when I feel like having my legs chopped off at the knees…

  • pete

    Ian, I’m sure that these developments are fantastic for disabled people but why should the majority of us care one way or the other if Mr Pistorius is allowed into the Olympic games or not? The Olympics are a dull, subsidised sporting event that attracts no real interest.

    The Olympics Games should finance itself. In the UK the Olympics attract no interest at all in advance. Essentially, they are a non-event. If the state broadcaster didn’t dutifully show them on its TV channels hardly anyone would know they were happening at all.

  • manuel II paleologos

    Andy Mo – any shoes which genuinely do “add a spring to a runner’s step” are also banned. It’s just marketing.

    Obviously there are all sorts of aids which help sportsmen – wearing 15mm spikes in a muddy cross-country makes me 25% faster than someone in bare feet, for starters. I suppose the point is that these must be available to all.

    I feel sorry for him, but it’s the right decision.

  • The Olympics are a dull, subsidised sporting event that attracts no real interest.

    Manifestly untrue. Oh I personally agree about the dull bit and have very little interest in the Olympic, but a lot of people do care and are delighted to have others foot the bill to finance their interest.

    The Olympics Games should finance itself.

    No argument there. Government (i.e. tax) spending on ‘culture and sport’ should be exactly zero.

  • I like the idea of ‘open class’ athletics. Only one restriction: no engines/motors. You want to take steroids? Want to cut off your legs and replaces them with springs? Cool. Lets see who is the best at biomechanics and which athlete is the most hard core cyborg.

    But Ian is correct about the real way to attract an audience. Return to the original Greek idea (except also have women compete. I mean, we don’t want to be sexist, right?)… Naked women’s beach volleyball? Yeah, that works :-)

  • Damn, Perry comes up with some damn fine ideas!

  • Ross Maartin

    This all reminds my of an old SNL skit.. “The All Drug Olympics“.

  • ian

    Follow my link above (Link)Scott – Perry isn’t the only one with an (over) active imagination…

    As for the open athletics idea, plenty of people watch events like Scrap Heap Challenge or that stupid robot wars thing, so why not cyborg athletics. It would actually be a damn good way of promoting research that would help normal people as indeed is the case here.

    Pete – my point is that this, despite the media stress, isn’t about athletics but about the way science and biomechanics have developed to benefit the disabled. Decrying research into such developments misses the point.

  • James

    “That is truly fascinating! I wonder when people will start removing biological bits and ‘upgrading’ voluntarily? Our transhuman future might not be so far off after all. Cool.”

    You’ve never heard of Lasik eye surgery, Perry? Or corneal implants? Or… oh, I’ll stop there.

  • Bah, that is just fixing broken bits, I am talking about people remaking themselves.

  • Well, cosmetic surgery is at least half way there.