Sunday, March 16, 2008

the cutting edge of the blade

Consider Oscar Pistorius (check spelling): banning him from competing against so-called 'able bodied' runners is discrimination. Pure and simple.

First strip aside all the faff about return of energy through his blades being more efficient than a normal ankle; strip aside the scientific mumbo jumbo of testing him against some other athletes and plotting their effort:speed ratio; this is giving you answers but you are asking the wrong question.

What are you measuring when you judge a running race? It's who can run the distance fastest given (and here is where the AAA is getting its knickers in a twist) that everybody has the same conditions and doesn't get an advantage by breaking the rules. Rules which are the same for everybody. Now these blades are not mechanical - they are not bionic legs. They are sprung metal and should fall into the same category as running shoes. Presumably there are rules as to what a running shoe may be made of and so forth. If you measured a runner's efficiency in running shoes against those in bare feet this would show an advantage (if it didn't they wouldn't wear shoes) All sports have non-mechanical equipment which aids the competitor - consider swimmers' suits which reduce drag, muscle fatigue etc. When you are looking at very fine differences even the material that shirts and shorts are made of makes a difference.

So if you ban something just because it increases efficiency then you're really back to ancient greece and naked athletes, which is fine but, well there's no room for the sponsors' logos is there? Even then there are advantages to be gained from living at altutude etc. The AAA really needs to avoid looking at this as one arsy south African and as the next era in competitive sport. All that is needed is regulation on the makeup of the blades just like there would be on a new shoe. That then is equality in as much as anything is ever equal which it clearly isn't. Does it diminish the spectacle or the result having a runner with blades instead of legs? No it doesn't. All the effort and speed is down to the runner it doesn't come from any aid. If he had been born seven feet tall it wouldn't disqualify him so neither should not having legs.

Ben goldacre would have a field day with the 'scientific results' of the tests in Germany I have no doubt. The efficiency of a human ankle must fall in a range from 'hopeless' to 'very good' - there is no 'normal'. What are you going to do? Take an average? Estimate what each competitor's ankle efficency would have been if they had any? OP might have had ankles better or worse than anybody you measure him against so what are you proving anyway?

He shouldn't be allowed to compete in the Olympics this year though. Not because of his legs but because they should be being boycotted by everyone.


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