Making the Impossible Possible
On Saturday, August 4, 2012, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius will become the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic games.
- Oscar Pistorius is a sprinter, sure, but he's also basically a professional world's-firster. Last year he became the world's first amputee to run in the World Championships, and today it was announced that Pistorius, whose legs were both amputated below the knee at less than a year old, will become the first amputee to run in the Olympic Games this summer in London.
- MIT Media Lab Professor Hugh Herr, himself a double amputee, has been a strong advocate for Pistorius's participation, presenting evidence as part of a scientific committee in 2008 that resulted in the reversal of the ban that would have kept Pistorius out of the Olympics.
- Pistorius, who was born without fibulae and runs on two Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetics, was formerly banned from competition as some believe the Cheetah legs give him an unfair advantage over non-amputee runners.
- Late in 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that his artificial limbs were actually giving him an unfair advantage — that their springiness allowed him to push off the ground more efficiently than does a normal human ankle, letting him coast along at higher speeds using less exertion than other sprinters. He was banned from able-bodied competition.
- Professor Herr believes that if there is a question about a prosthetic providing an athlete with an advantage, that it should be the prosthetic that is banned, not the person.
- "My personal view is that we should architect a society where, if a person happens to be born without fully formed legs and if that person happens to be an extraordinary talent, he or she should be allowed to compete in a sports event such as the Olympic Games assuming qualifying time are satisfied. "It's the dream of almost all top athletes to go to the Olympics. "We should allow athletes that freedom, but we should also ensure fairness in sport."
- Herr argues that if Pistorius' prosthetics work better than biological limbs, they'd be giving a boost to other amputees, too. But Paralympic athletes have used the same technology for the past 15 years, and no one has achieved Pistorius's running times. "It's clearly because of Oscar, not the legs," Herr said.
- Will you be watching Oscar make history tomorrow?
- Each Olympiad is full of moving examples of athletes who have overcome adversity to excel with grace and skill. Olympic athletes give up the chance for a "normal" life in their attempts to be the greatest in the world at their chosen sports. Their goal of being the best eclipses everything else, and they push their bodies further than most of us can even comprehend.Pistorius, who seemingly lacks the most basic thing needed to succeed at his sport–his legs–embodies the miracle of the age in which we live: an era where disability and impossibility are conquered by the power of innovation and change.
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