Does the name Oscar Pistorius mean anything to you? If you don’t follow track and field or Olympics drama, probably not. He is a gifted sprinter who will be running for South Africa in this summer’s games. He is fast, though probably not fast enough to be a serious threat. Oh, and he’s a double amputee.
Because of his “blades” that he uses when running for legs, track and field officials have argued back and forth for several years as to whether it is an unfair advantage for him to compete with able-bodied athletes. Supposedly his legs are more aerodynamic and springy, giving him an edge. Despite all the controversy, Competitor.com is reporting he has been appointed to the South African team in both the 400 meter and 4 x 400 relays. [For anyone who doesn’t follow track and field, 400 meters is one loop around a standard track.]
Personally, I never entirely understood the controversy. It seems like the “don’t let him run” side’s main argument is that he has an unfair advantage from his blades, and the weird “slippery slope” aspect that someone even faster with no legs might show up and beat able-bodied athletes. Look, Oscar Pistorius runs 400 meters faster than I can run 200 meters, so this is in no way a knock on his talent-the world record for 400 meters is 43.18s, and Oscar’s personal best is 45.07. Imagine you ran 1/4 mile as hard as you can, all out, collapsed on the ground unable to breath at the end hard. Now imagine you have to do it a full 2 seconds faster than your hardest effort. It is not easy, so while Oscar is certainly competitive, he’s at the same level as many elite athletes, not light years above them. The slippery slope argument is even weirder, since it assumes someone with an intense level of skill and talent who happens to be a double amputee will dominate the sport…and if they do, good for them! Talent is talent, and the effort it takes to hurl oneself around a track has less to do with bouncey leg appendages and more to do with strength and ability.
I guess my main issue is this: the Olympics are constantly held up as a triumph of the human spirit. We celebrate victories that are boosted by special swimsuits, athletes in knee and arm braces, runners with special lightweight shoes, skiers and bikers with lightweight and aerodynamic equipment. Oscar Pistorius’s blades are just another extension of that. But the story of man with no legs who can compete in the Olympic games against able-bodied athletes, that’s the kind of story the Olympics loves, and it’s part of why I love watching them…seeing people stretch to their max, showing off the mix of raw talent and hard work that got them there. And I for one am thrilled to be able to see Pistorius compete.
Do you think Pistorius should have been allowed to compete? Let us know your take in the comments!