An Unfair Advantage?

Do you guys all remember Michael Johnson? The runner from the 1996 and 2000 Olympics with the “golden shoes” who won a bunch of races? Yeah, him. Well, he’s still competing, is planning to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London next week, and has brought a controversy to light.

One of his fellow runners, a man he makes a point to say is his friend, is a disabled runner. Oscar Pistorius, from South Africa, is known as “Blade Runner”, because he is missing his legs below the knees and runs on “blades” (see the picture). These blades are made from a springy steel substance, and rebound when they hit the ground, allowing the wearer to run.

Johnson says that Pistorius and others like him shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, because they may possess an unfair advantage provided by those springy prosthetics. He quotes fellow Olympic runner Roger Black, who outlined the situation well: “What happens when we have a Michael Johnson, a 43-second 400-metre runner, who then has a horrific accident and then becomes a disabled athlete and then you put him on blades, these prosthetics, and he is now running 41 seconds?”

Others disagree, saying that Pistorius is an inspiration, and should be allowed to compete. Disregarding the obvious baiting, there is quite the debate going on in the comments section of the linked article – everything from “he belongs in the Paralympics” to “this will cause others to amputate limbs to get the same advantage that the blades provide.”

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7 Responses to An Unfair Advantage?

  1. Joy says:

    I feel like a schmuck but I do feel he’s got an unfair advantage. It sounds terrible to say. I do feel he should be with the Paralympics. I do feel for him and DO feel he’s a great inspiration but still and all, I do feel these will propel him to go faster and when it’s all said and done, that’s not fair. Now I feel awful for feeling this way.

    • Laura says:

      You shouldn’t feel awful, Joy. I think a lot of people feel the same way. Heck, some of the Olympians feel this way. One of the other “advantages” they pointed out is a very valid one – fatigue and injury. He is not going to become fatigued in the feet, ankles, etc., because he has none. Yeah, those prosthetics *could* break, but it’s not likely; whereas a runner could turn an ankle and be out for the Games.

      Other runners have to contend with fatigue, as well… those prosthetics will just keep right on going. But the runner will have to expend oxygen to keep the muscles in his ENTIRE legs going, where Pistorius will not. Yes, he needs to be in condition, yes, he needs to train, but it’s different.

  2. SKL says:

    I can understand the question. I guess if they really knew how much of an advantage those legs were, maybe they could design a “handicap” mechanism to make it fair. But it sounds like they don’t have enough knowledge about them to do that yet.

    I tend to agree that letting the guy race for real in the Olympics would be comparing apples to oranges in a context where it really matters. It seems the guy bringing it up isn’t concerned for his own record, but for slower competitors who could be edged out. It’s kind of like allowing a student to use certain accommodating equipment / aides when taking a competitive test. You have to be very careful with that. I remember reading about Helen Keller and the politics over her college final exams. It may be impossible to come up with something that is really fair to all.

    If they are suggesting someone might chop off his legs to get the advantage, that sounds really out there, but I guess you never know what lengths some people would go to.

    • Laura says:

      The people who said that about deliberate amputation were referencing some athletes who have been quoted as saying that they’d give up years of their lives (and go to other extremes) to win a Gold Medal. Sad to say, there’s probably some nut out there who would do it, because the medal means more than the actual effort to get it fairly.

  3. If it’s not equal, it’s not fair. You can’t be just “a little pregnant” and you cannot have just “a little mechanical advantage”. That doesn’t come with any hatred in my heart. Who couldn’t have compassion for someone who has suffered the loss of his limbs? The opening sentences doesn’t come without me being in complete awe of what strength it takes to overcome such a hardship and turning it around! It’s not discrimination or bigotry for which I say that it seems like the spring loaded prosthetics do have a mechanical advantage. So much energy is expended from abled bodied runners through their feet, ankles, and knees – but does this mean that Oscar Pistorius is not in extreme physical shape? No! He worked his butt off to get to where is is and that is commendable BUT to be fair, you have to have the same parts to compete – in these days especially because he’s not running with a peg leg – he’s running with sleek engineered spring loaded prosthetics and while I’m happy for him and all the amputees that now have access to make their lives a little better and maybe even easier…. it just has to be fair across the board. I’m sure if he competes in the Paralympics, there will be competition for him there- if not now, it will inspire others to up their game and try to beat him.

    • Sue says:

      Well said and I completely agree!

    • Nikki says:

      I also agree with what you said. It’s just not fair and equal, which it should be. I don’t think any of us feel this way, without feeling inspired by him at the same time. Just because we don’t feel it’s fair, doesn’t take anything away from his desire and hard work.

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