Amputee Runners

The Star has an article about Oscar Pistorius, a runner who has two artificial legs. Mr. Pistorius has been barred from running in the Olympics because his artificial legs give him an advantage over normal runners.

It seems an ironic, possibly unexpected situation, where a person born with no fibulas, who had his lower legs amputated at 11 months old, could have the advantage in a running competition. But the truth is the artificial legs were designed for only one purpose: running. They are not suited to any other task, and their structure is optimized for what they do. As a consequence they allow a runner to run more efficiently.

It's unfortunate for Mr. Pistorius, who has trained hard and overcome obvious limitations in order to be a possible Olympic athlete, but if his prosthetics provide an advantage over normal legs then I have to agree with the ban. The Olympic games are supposed to be a narrowly-defined contest and things like steroids or prosthetics fall outside those limits. This is especially true of running, where almost no technology is used; compared to, say, skiing where the skis and poles are extremely advanced.

One day there will be a sport where people can use artificial limbs, or maybe the poor availability of unmodified athletes will moot the discussion. Or maybe the normal runners can have shoes made that mimic the prosthetics. Until then, the disabled runner is just too good for normal runners. And that is possibly the highest compliment that can be paid to the runner and the people who made his running legs.

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