They say that turnabout is fair play. And indeed, after all the talk that Oscar Pistorius's prosthetic Cheetah's were giving him an unfair advantage against normal functioning athletes, it would appear that he has himself become the victim of an opponent with a technological edge.
This past Sunday September 2 at the Paralympic Games in London, Pistorius was defeated by Brazilian runner Alan Oliveira in the 200-meter dash. Pistorius quickly lashed back, accusing Oliveira of using carbonfibre prosthetic limbs that were four inches higher than they should be. But according to the IPC, Fonteles's artificial legs were completely within spec.
Pistorius has since apologized, but insists that it's an issue that needs to be addressed.
Andy Miah, Director of the Creative Futures Institute at the University of the West of Scotland, had this to say about the incident:
The big question emerging from the race last night is whether the Paralympic rules within the T43 200m race need to be tighter. It's normal that a past winner should face young challengers and that they should eventually dethrone the champion. However, this looks like an unusual win and the concerns have been raised by other Paralympians about athletes adjusting their blade dimensions.
If Oliveira's prosthetic legs are bigger and better and legal, then Pistorius really ought to get some. If his body height precludes this and the only reason why Alan Fonteles Oliveira has longer blades is that he is taller, then Pistorius has been beaten by a more biologically privileged athlete. However, there might be an argument to divide athletes by height as well as disability – and this is something I've argued should be applied not just to Paralympic sport, but also the Olympics. In the same way that we separate athletes in weight divisions, height also has a huge impact on likely achievements.
The deeper issue underpinning this debate is what counts as a legitimate human within either Olympic and Paralympic sport. This is why the fall of Oscar Pistorius is more important than the fall of any other athlete before him, even Lance Armstrong. This is because Pistorius symbolizes the rise of the cyborg and the demise of the natural human. If his loss yesterday was fair, two conclusions are possible. Either, there are more like him coming and this will spark a tidal wave of change within Olympic and Paralympic sport, but, more broadly, in how society perceives ability. If his loss was unfair, then we may ask whether it is ok to transcend the normal human body and change people in a way that bears no resemblance to species typical norms. Either way, the debacle is a step forward for a transhuman view of sport, the only sure winner of which is technology. Just in case this is unclear, I think this is good for sport, as it exposes what has been there under the surface for some time. In fact, as the technology progresses to the nanoscale, our reinforcements – our prosthetics – will become imperceptible to the naked eye.
Images via Reuters.