The 2012 Summer Olympics start July 27. Like most sports fans, I always get excited about the Olympics: the pageantry, the athleticism, and the glory of achievement. But this year, there is something else that will be amazing to see. The Fastest Man on No Legs will be racing in London.
This is the nickname of South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius had both his legs amputated as a baby because of a birth defect that left him with no fibula bones. Instead of legs like the rest of the Olympic field, Pistorius will be running on prosthetic devices called “Cheetahs.”
I am just fascinated by this story. It raises so many interesting issues!
There is the obvious ethical and legal question: should an athlete that requires a technical device to compete be allowed to compete against athletes that do not?
But it suggests several other philosophic issues as well:
- Is Pistorius actually running? That is, does the movement that he engages in count as a kind of running or is it something else?
- What is and ought to be our relationship to technology? Does it enhance our humanity or undermine it? Is Pistorius less human by needing technology to compete or is this a deeper expression of his humanity?
- What is the nature of an advantage and when is it to be counted as being an unfair advantage?
These are not questions with easy or uncontroversial answers. They also bear on other ethical issues; for example, the issue of unfair advantage is relevant for the arguments regarding PEDs—and also for political and economic arguments more generally (how should we deal with unfair advantages in the market?).
A quick search on Google or an academic database will turn up many articles tackling aspects of these issues. I am not going to get into them here in this post. I just want to highlight the issues raised by the Pistorius case. But more than that, I want to call attention to the fact that Pistorius will be in London for the Olympics.
It is such a great story. Pistorius has overcome challenges and obstacles with which no other Olympiad as ever had to deal. There is the obvious challenge of not having legs and running on prosthetics. The challenge of using prosthetics just to walk is probably hard enough for most people, let alone running, let alone running at times that qualify for the Olympics!
But Oscar also had to fight a legal battle just to get the opportunity to compete in London. Initially banned from competing in the Beijing Olympics by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), Pistorius fought a legal battle to overturn the ruling. Oscar won the battle for Beijing, but was not able to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. On July 4, South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) announced that Pistorius would be included in its Olympic squad. He will run in 4×400 meter relay and the Men’s 400-meter.
Pistorius is to be admired and lauded for his ability and perseverance. He is a role model not just for disabled-athletes and individuals, but everyone. Through hard work, discipline, and training, he has made his dream come true. He has not let ignorance or prejudice stand in his way. He has not let his lack of legs keep him from pursuing his dreams or living the life he chooses.
For these reasons alone, I will be rooting hard to see Pistorius upon his blades standing proud on the medal podium.