I knew about Oscar Pistorius before these current Olympic games because his story fascinates me. Born without both of his fibulas, doctors (and his parents) decided to amputate his legs before he was a year old. Oscar is an elite athlete from South Africa and running is his specialty.
When Oscar was a small boy his mother said something seemingly insignificant, but yet life changing one morning. She said, “You, put your shoes on. And you, put your legs on and that’s the last I want to hear about it.”
Oscar’s mother would die a few years later, but that memory has stayed with him for the duration. Undoubtedly it echoes in his brain saying, “Yes, you have no legs, but Mummy says get over it.” That is a gift when your most formidable role model tells you that – yes – you have a disadvantage, but if you dwell on it, you will drown. So, it’s best to acknowledge it, but then forget about it entirely.
Which brings me to the disadvantage question…many fellow runners and the Olympic committee that oversees fairness within the competition have questioned whether Pistorius has a disadvantage at all. There are sects within the sport that say, in fact, what his has is an advantage. Oscar runs on carbon prosthetic legs, known as blades, which has led to the nickname, “Bladerunner” for the very man in question.
The advantage faction say that the blades are lighter than a human leg (which they are) and that makes him faster. They also say that Oscar can “replace” his leg in the running position at a faster rate than a runner with legs, which also gives him an advantage.
The disadvantage camp says that because the legs are prosthetics, Oscar can not explode out of the starting blocks at the same rate as the other runners, which is true, and gives him a disadvantage. They also say that Oscar can not lean forward and run as aerodynamically as the other runners due to the fact that the legs force him to stand more upright. This is also true.
Oscar has had to compensate massively for the lack of his human legs (and I’m talking solely in the realm of sport here). For example, he possesses none of the lower leg muscles that a typical runner has, so he has to make up for that with hip and core strength. The hip, it seems, is far more crucial in the mechanics of propelling Oscar forward than it is for other runners.
The entire Oscar Pistorius issue intrigues me in a number of ways. For one, it reminds me of a high school assembly that I attended years ago. The assembly was to discourage us young people against drunk driving. The main speaker was a world class athlete in soccer. He lost his leg playing a drunk game of get-out-of-the-car and get-back-in on a freeway. He recovered from his injury and began running in the paralympics. He basically told us a cautionary tale with a redemption angle. It was the true stuff of good drama, much like the Oscar story is today. When the question and answer portion of the assembly began, I raised my hand. I asked the athlete if his new, super-leg, prosthetic gave him any advantage. I was practically laughed out of the room. The students laughed and the athlete laughed. He said something to the effect of, “A prosthetic leg will never be as good as a human leg.”
But, oh, look at the debate today. It looks like my question was a good one, only it was several decades too early.
The other place my brain goes when I think of the Oscar Pistorius is to that of transexuals. Yep, that’s right, that’s where I go. Apparently, I’m not the only one. The IOC tests female athletes in regards to their testosterone level to make sure that they are “female enough.” The current school of thought is that once a trans-sexual is “post op” enough – at a certain point after their surgery and hormone treatments – they lose all of their physical advantages. So, things – theoretically – should be equal for men born male, but who become women to compete in the women’s division and vice-versa for the men’s side.
Yet, to put it plainly, as a woman born a woman, I have a problem with a man born a man who becomes a woman competing in the female category. It just bothers me somehow. It bothers me in a deep, instinctual way that I can not quite put a finger on.
So, who am I to judge the runners and the theorists who think Oscar has an advantage?
Maybe if all things are to be equal, than all things MUST be equal.
However, when I think of Oscar beating an “able-bodied” runner (Is Oscar really UN-able-bodied at this point? I don’t think anyone would say so.)…better said, when Oscar beats a runner with legs, it makes me think of one thing – the Boston-NY AIDS ride that I completed years ago.
The ride is a three-day event of approximately 100 miles per day where you ride from Boston to New York. When I was dead-dog-tired during that ride, I remember seeing riders without legs next to me. They were going up enormous hills with arm bikes. They were using nothing, but their arms to bike up crushing hills and I remember thinking, “I will not be beaten by a person with no legs.” I draw the line there.
Perhaps, that’s what has happened to the most elite runners of the 400m in the world. A man with no legs has made them feel average. His very presence makes them feel a touch inadequate because whatever they have done, the truth is, he has done more.
It’s just a thought. What do you think about the Oscar issue? Fair or unfair?
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