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Cruiser's avatar

Should athletes who have prosthetics be allowed to compete against "able-bodied" athletes?

Asked by Cruiser (34984 points ) July 17th, 2012

A South African man Oscar Pistorius who has two prostthtic limbs will be competing in this years olympics in the 400 m race.

Record holder Michael Johnson says that Oscar will have an unfair advantage and should not be allowed to race. What are your thoughts on this??

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46 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Everyone should be allowed to compete against everyone else – I say this in regards to sex, gender, citizenship, able-bodieness and whatever else. The ‘unfair advantage’ card is so tired. And maybe the question should be: should ‘regular’ people be allowed to compete with humans who have prosthetic limbs? Why is it the other way around? That’s right, because we think able-bodied people are the standard.

ucme's avatar

Pistorius, or “blade runner” as he’s come to be known, already ran in last summer’s athletics world championships in Daegu South Korea.
He was eliminated in the semi-final of the 400 mtrs & went on to help South Africa gain a place in the 400 relay, interestingly though, he was dropped from the final.
He’s won countless titles at paralympic level & this, along with the other factors suggests indeed he should be allowed to compete.
Does he hold an advantage? No more than the drug cheats that pepper the sport, at least this guy’s legal. Good luck to him I say, although he’s unlikely to podium.

ragingloli's avatar

This is obviously a vicious slippery slope! What is next? Powered exoskeletons? Jump Jets? Antigravity Belts? Everyone will end up as a BORG, and it must be stopped!

Of course they should. If you feel threatened by a guy with a plastic leg, maybe you should train more.

ucme's avatar

Ahem…..Cheetah-Flex-Foot carbon fibre transtibial artificial limb, actually.

ragingloli's avatar

and others have carbonated hydroxyapatite reinforced biomechanical limbs.

ucme's avatar

That’s better, “plastic”....tsk, tsk.

ragingloli's avatar

by that I meant normal human legs with bones inside

ucme's avatar

Yeah….of course you did.
Back to the question though, Pistorius isn’t the first case of this kind, Natalie Du Toit swam at the Beijing games & Casey Martin played on the pga tour using a golf buggy.
I see a healthy trend being set, long may it continue.

Leanne1986's avatar

Whilst I understand the argument around the unfair advantage that he may have, I believe he should be allowed to compete alongside able bodied athletes.

SuperMouse's avatar

The issue is not really whether Pistorious is able-bodied or disabled, it is a question of whether his prosthetic limbs give him an unfair advantage over the competition.The fact is that those legs are designed for running and to give him the maximum advantage, the rest of the runners have their original equipment. It is kind of like racing a street legal hot rod against a pro-stock car on the quarter mile; it is an uneven match up, that’s why there are different classes based on the equipment used.

Casey Martin using a golf cart didn’t help his swing, it just enabled him to get around the course. I am not saying that athletes with disabilities shouldn’t be able to compete against able-bodied athletes, just that with or without disabilities the playing field needs to be level so success or failure is based solely on the skills/abilities./training of the competitors.

Cruiser's avatar

But would they let Col. Steve Austin Compete??

gondwanalon's avatar

Unfair advantage or no unfair advantage, Oscar Pistorius has not yet even met the Olympic qualifying time for the 400 meter run which is 45.30 (Pistorius qualified for his team with a 45.52) . Therefore he will likely not even make to the finals in the 2012 Olympics. I say let him participate. It will lift up those like him who suffer with disabilities.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Cruiser that is exactly what I was thinking!

SavoirFaire's avatar

If they really think it’s unfair, they are welcome to have their own legs amputated and replaced with prosthetics.

What’s that? No takers? Go figure…

ucme's avatar

The guy has no advantage, indeed, he’s more prone to hip & thigh injuries simply due to the “mechanics” involved in modifying his running style due to the equipment he uses.
Kind of evens itself out when all’s said & done.

SuperMouse's avatar

@ucme if that is indeed the case then there is no reason he shouldn’t be allowed to compete in the Olympics. Is there any way to know for sure? I really believe that Michael Johnson’s concern arises not from a prejudice about Mr. Pistorious’s disability, but from his concern that his prosthetic legs could give him an unfair advantage. It is the the same reason allegations of doping are investigated and Lance Armstrong is facing his latest doping investigation.

@gondwanalon FYI, most of the people I know who are disabled do not “suffer” with their disability, they live with it play the cards they are dealt.

@SavoirFaire I fail to see how people being unwilling to amputate their legs really matters here.

ucme's avatar

@SuperMouse Oh i’ve no doubt Michael Johnson believes what he’s saying & certainly has no other motive than one of fair play to fellow athletes, I just happen to disagree with his premise that’s all.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Of course they should. They’ve had to overcome a lot, learning how to maneuver normally and bust their ass to make it to competitive level with prosthetics. I applaud them for wanting to compete, and I say they should have at it.

Cruiser's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate I agree and can only imagine the wipe-outs he has had trying to master the start and going full tilt around the turns.

SuperMouse's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate and @Cruiser the able bodied athletes had to work just as hard to get to that level of competition. Why shouldn’t they be able to compete on an even playing field? If Pistorious’s prosthetic limbs give him an advantage he shouldn’t compete. Whether he is disabled or not no able bodied going to want to take my husband on in a downhill race, he will kick their ass because being on wheels gives him an unfair advantage.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@SuperMouse I don’t believe that he actually has any sort of advantage. And my point is that they all worked hard to get where they are, and they should all be able to compete. A man with prosthetic limbs shouldn’t be excluded.

Cruiser's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate I make polymers and know the dynamic potential of compression of composites and a close analogy would be the push back of a pogo stick with these spring like prosthetics. Plus they are ultra light weight and I would venture a guess to be a fraction of the weight of flesh and bones. Plus his “footprint” is also a fraction of the size of a human foot which mean less contact area and most importantly less friction. The potential for engineered advantages exists and in the world of human achievement I can see the argument Mr. Johnson is attempting to articulate and especially in defense of his 100% human records.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SuperMouse It matters because they wouldn’t be so unwilling if they really believed it was so advantageous. But they don’t believe it. They’re just offended that someone they assumed to be a second-class citizen might be able to compete. Everyone who makes it to the Olympic Games has overcome challenges relating to their personal situation, some more severe than others. Excluding Pistorius is contrary to the Olympic spirit.

ucme's avatar

Now if he were competing in the high jump, hmmmm…....

SuperMouse's avatar

@SavoirFaire I really think your reasoning is flawed. I just don’t see how you can argue that because an elite athlete would not be willing to chop off their legs to be able to go faster they don’t believe these limbs would give Mr. Pistorious an advantage. I also think it is flawed to think that the majority thinking is that a person living with a disability is generally thought of as a second class citizen.

@WillWorkForChocolate if it can indeed be shown that the legs don’t give Pistorious an advantage because of all the things @Cruiser describes, he should absolutely be able to compete in the Olympics. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense to me.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SuperMouse First, I didn’t say anything about the majority. I said something about a definitively small group of people (indeed, about a specific subset of those who oppose Pistorious’ competing in the Olympic Games). Second, my point about amputation is that the athletes obviously don’t see it as enough of an advantage to consider doing it themselves.

We don’t punish athletes for having longer legs, so I don’t see why we should punish them for having prosthetic legs. It’s an amazing testament to the human spirit that Pistorious can race at all—and that’s what the Olympics have been about since 776 BC. So while my original post was satirical, I think it gets at an important underlying point.

dabbler's avatar

This article on the BBC site says “he can swing his legs around 20% faster than a runner with intact limbs, moving at the same speed.” That is because he has some mechanical advantage because of the reduced weight of the lower legs. This is important especially at the high speeds at which he competes.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@dabbler It is important, but it’s no different than the various advantages that other runners have because of peculiarities about their bodies. One thing I find funny about this whole discussion is that no one has stopped calling Pistorious “disabled” as a result of his supposedly advantageous prosthetics, and no one has stopped calling his opponents “able-bodied” as a result of their supposedly disadvantageous natural legs.

Ultimately, I agree with Erik Weihenmayer (the first blind person to climb Mount Everest): “We mustn’t lose sight of what makes an athlete great. It’s too easy to credit Pistorius’ success to technology. Through birth or circumstance, some are given certain gifts, but it’s what one does with those gifts, the hours devoted to training, the desire to be the best, that is at the true heart of a champion.”

Pistorious is no different than any other Olympian. He has spent years training to be the best he can be with the legs he has available. Yes, his legs are designed for running. So are the legs of his competitors. They were simply developed in a different way. Moreover, Pistorious has to train specially to make up for the lack of sensory data and support muscles in his lower extremities.

If a city-state had chosen to send a maimed competitor to the Olympics in ancient Greece, no one would have objected; and if he had won, no one would have complained that he had an unfair advantage. They would have congratulated him for overcoming adversity and claiming victory over his opponents. It is sad that there are people today who do not share this attitude.

flo's avatar

He has an unfair advantage of course so Michael Johnson was stating the obvious.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo If his prosthetics were such an unfair advantage, why didn’t he win?

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire that is a good question. Maybe someone has an answer to that.

ragingloli's avatar

because he was distracted plotting the murder of his wife and making it look like an accident

flo's avatar

I’ll prove that it is still an unfair advantage though @SavoirFaire just not right now I have to sign out.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire Would whoever makes those prosthetics be able to claim in their marketing/advertising that their product is better because the athletes using their product win in the olympics/any competitive event, where all the competetors are using other prosthetics manufacturers’ product?

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire the other thing is the fact that I/we can’t explain how he didn’t win is another question altogether. For example if if I stole an exam and I got the answers, as well, but I still ended up failing. How can people explain it? It is very hard to explain, but it is still unfair for me to try and compete with the ones who didn’t (if the rest of the students didn’t get the exam). And rest assured there is an explanation we just don’t know it, I’m thinking.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo Advertisers can get away with claiming just about anything that isn’t blatantly false. The mere fact that Pistorius uses Össur prosthetics is boon for the company regardless of whether he wins and regardless of whether they give him any special advantage. That’s just how advertising works.

As for your stolen test example, it is certainly true that one can cheat and still underperform. I don’t think your example is at all difficult to explain, however. Someone who feels pressured to steal the examination is likely not very good with the relevant information in the first place. This could make memorizing and reproducing the answers quite tricky, despite the advanced access to the questions.

Such explanations are not available in the case of Pistorius, however, as we know that he is already an accomplished runner and that he trained constantly for his Olympic events. What might explain his loss, however, is that perhaps being disabled really is a disadvantage for him. Pistorius’ prosthetics have nothing comparable to an ankle, which means he gets a slow start off the blocks at the beginning of a race and has trouble with curves. You can read about other disadvantages here.

Are there advantages to having artificial legs? Of course there are. The most obvious one is that prosthetics are lighter than flesh and bone. But there are also advantages to having natural legs. As I noted above, however, this is no different from how some athletes have the advantage of longer limbs or other bodily features suited to their chosen sport. As such, I see no reason to consider Pistorius’ prosthetics unfair in comparison to the equipment of his competitors.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire I wish I could read all there is to read about it. If he “has trouble with curves.” etc. then the prosthetics don’t render him “overly-bodied” (if there is such a term)

“What might explain his loss, however, is that perhaps being disabled really is a disadvantage for him.”

It just happens to be so in this particular case, since “he has trouble with curves” but the technology will perfect it, and then what? Then he will have the advantage.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo Perhaps some day we will have prosthetic legs with imitation ankles. That seems to have nothing to do with the question of whether or not Pistorius—with his ankle-free prosthetics—should be allowed to compete. But even if the technology does improve, so what if he has the advantage? We don’t complain about runners with abnormally long legs having an advantage, despite the fact that they clearly do. People with prosthetics must go through a long process of adjusting to them, and it is only after they do so that they can begin training for an athletic event (which requires above-average control of one’s body). The success of disabled Olympians is built on hard work and dedication just as much as the success of able-bodied Olympians is. Attempting to exclude them is bigotry, pure and simple.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire . The difference between long legged runners and the shorter legged runners doesn’t compare with bionic-ish and regular human body. They are nowhere near similar enough.

That link in your post makes sound like people (as in the meanies? )are saying it is advantageous to be an amputee.

I’m afraid I have gone as far as I can with the debate.

flo's avatar

By the way, @SavoirFaire the sentences in your 1st paragraph (post before last);

“Advertisers can get away with claiming just about anything that isn’t blatantly false. The mere fact that Pistorius uses Össur prosthetics is boon for the company regardless of whether he wins and regardless of whether they give him any special advantage. That’s just how advertising works.”

are just facts, not reasons for why it is not unfair advantage. Except for the last one “That’s just how advertising works.” meaning it is unfair and it is fair that it is unfair?

SuperMouse's avatar

Ever since Mr. Pistorious has returned to the news, I have started thinking about this again. What if the only thing that got him to a performance level where he qualified for the Olympics was the blades? My theory is that with his normal legs he is just somewhat above average sprinter, but by no means Olympic caliber. The carbon fiber prosthetic legs and the edge they give him, are what got him there in the first place. Right there is the unfair advantage.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo What I said about advertisers was in response to your question about advertisers. It wasn’t meant to be about whether or not Pistorius has an unfair advantage at all. It was simply a response to your question.

And I don’t see how there is any difference between the advantages runners with longer legs have over runners with shorter legs and the putative advantages that a person with prosthetics might have over those without them. Everyone comes to the competition with advantages and disadvantages. That’s one of the reasons they need to train so hard. Pistorius’ legs are a little lighter, but also lacking a major muscle group. It’s not like he has rocket-boosters on his feet.

P.S.: “Bionic” typically refers to electromechanical prosthetics, which Pistorius’ are not.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SuperMouse Pistorius doesn’t have normal legs. He has a set of prosthetics designed to sacrifice ordinary functionality in order to look normal and a set of prosthetics designed for running. An ordinary human leg can serve both functions at once without any problem, and has advantages in the form of ankle articulation, an extra muscle group, and continuous sensory data from the area between the knee and sole of the foot.

Pistorius has none of these advantages and also has to deal with pain at the attachment site of this prosthetic limbs, which is amplified by the stress put on them by running. He also starts every race with the psychological disadvantage that comes from being in last place—again, an effect of having no ankle articulation. These are significant disadvantages, and compensating for them requires rigorous training.

Even if we grant that having prosthetic legs comes with some advantage, then, what justifies the claim that it is an unfair advantage? And if it really is so advantageous, then answer the question I asked @flo: why didn’t Pistorius win? Your objection amounts to nothing more than a complaint that Pistorius found a way to compete rather than accepting second-class citizen status. I see no reason to accept it as legitimate.

My favorite moment of the 2012 Summer Olympics was Kirani James trading name tags with Pistorius. James had just come in first, yet he initiated the exchange. He saw past the manufactured controversy to how remarkable it was that a double-amputee was competing in the Olympics at all and expressed respect for what both he and Pistorius had accomplished that day. Now that’s the attitude of an Olympian.

flo's avatar

“It is fraud that avertisers can get away with claiming just about anything that isn’t blatantly false”.

flo's avatar

…Also, “It is fraud that avertisers can get away with claiming just about anything including what *is blatantly false*”

Speaking of fair and unfair, do you agree with those statements @SavoirFaire?

SuperMouse's avatar

@SavoirFaire he didn’t win because he was not the best athlete in the field. I would posit that those blades earned an above average – but not world class – athlete a spot on the Olympic team. That equals an unfair advantage.

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