Andrew Sullivan: How Fair Are Running Prosthetics?

How Fair Are Running Prosthetics? – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast

As a somewhat extreme example of how technology can improve today’s athletes, South African runner Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee below the knees, runs on carbon fiber blades named “Flex-Foot Cheetahs.” In order to be able to compete in the Olympics, a study was done to see whether his prosthetics offered him an unfair advantage, and though the study concluded he could enter the games, the researchers still aren’t exactly in agreement about the science:

[…] Repositioning his legs faster means Pistorius can keep his foot on the ground longer than everyone else. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but […] a runner’s speed is largely determined by how long he can keep his feet on the ground, rather than in the air.

The longer a foot remains on the ground, the more time the person has to generate force that will propel him forward. More force generally means more speed. [Physiologist Rodger] Kram argues, however, that because the Cheetahs are made of carbon fiber, and are lighter, they can’t transmit nearly as much force to the ground as a human leg can, creating less forward propulsion. So Pistorius has to push down harder than most people to get the same amount of force […].

[…] Because Pistorius’s Cheetah’s don’t tire, his lower leg stays springy throughout the entire race. For most 400-meter runners the second half of the race is where the real battle happens. Jim Matin, a researcher at the University of Utah, says that the lower leg is what weakens and slows runners. Martin thinks that if Pistorius ran in a competitive 600-meter race, Pistorius could set the world record.

Look. It’s not like he’s motorized. He’s a ****ing DOUBLE-AMPUTEE! If he can learn to run on fake legs and become one of the world’s fastest runners, maybe even setting a world record, then he deserves every award he earns, and we should probably invent some new ones to give him, too. Is it unfair that he has tools no one else gets to have? No, it’s unfair everyone else has real feet.


  6 comments for “Andrew Sullivan: How Fair Are Running Prosthetics?

  1. USHA#17
    July 28, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Agree about the deserving the notary but his misfortune is just that. It should not effect record related competitions.

    Now back on topic, if his skating abilities were improved by the prosthetic(s) should he be allowed in a professional league (a la Dempsey)? Would prosthesis use spread like steroid use? Amputate a leg, get a $15M signing bonus? How would knee braces fit in this picture?

    Back off topic, what about a soccer player (worse a French player) adding a metal plate in his head for butting balls?

    • July 28, 2012 at 4:44 PM

      there’s a difference between using technology (e.g. prosthetics, eyeglasses) to correct a deficiency (e.g. no legs, poor eyesight) and using technology to enhance normal functioning.

      • USHA#17
        July 28, 2012 at 7:18 PM

        Glasses? As in Olympic watch making? I suppose I left off my /s’s. Except in of course in the case of our French friend.

      • Jack
        July 28, 2012 at 10:08 PM

        And then there’s the hilariously sad difficulty in getting athletes to wear equipment that’s in their best interest. Eye visors for example…

  2. okto
    July 28, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    right. its almost as if the sullivans position is that if pistorius sets a world record, everybodys gonna wanna be a double amputee. and thats cheating.


  3. Kingnation13
    July 29, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    Katt Williams touched on this subject a few years ago in one of his comedy acts. Google Katt Williams Tink-Tink.

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