As the Paralympic Games got underway in London Wednesday night, the 4,200 athletes competing took center stage. Perhaps most famous among them is South African Oscar Pistorius, 25, known as the “Blade Runner.”
A double amputee who runs on two carbon fiber prosthetics, Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics earlier this month. He made the semifinals at the London Games in the 400 meters and placed eighth with his teammates in the 4 x 400 meter relay. Pistorius, who was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee at just 11-months old, also owns a silver medal in the 4 x 400 meter relay from the 2011 World Championships. He’ll defend his Paralympic gold medals in the men’s 100m, 200m and 400m, and also run the 4 x 100m relay on the track in the coming weeks.
As much as Pistorius has been lauded for his achievements as an amputee athlete, he’s also been the subject of speculation as the world debated whether or not his prosthetic legs put him at an advantage. In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body for the sport, claimed his prosthetics game him an unfair advantage and banned him from competition. Later that year, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ruling and opened the door for Pistorius and athletes like him to compete in open competition. Detractors say that Pistorius’s artificial legs allow him to use less energy than other runners. Advocates say that the way an amputee’s prosthetics shoot them off the starting block puts them at a distinct disadvantage, among other factors.
One such advocate is American amputee triathlete Sarah Reinertsen, who published an op-ed on TakePart.com about Pistorius and amputee athletes. Reinertsen was the first female leg amputee to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
“For amputee runners, it takes more than just carbon fiber blades to be fast. If that’s an advantage, I don’t see it. How is it an advantage to not have two legs? The carbon fiber gives an energy return of 90 percent, but you have to be the engine to inject that energy into the legs. The human foot has an energy return of about 200 percent. Do we tell someone, you can’t wear those glasses because it makes you see better?
… We are athletes just like anyone else, but we have to do sports differently, with extra equipment. Yet we have the same passions, dreams, hopes and talents as able-bodied athletes.
I love competing and my prostheses allow me to compete. I say, isn’t that great?”
I think it is. I agree wholeheartedly with Reinertsen, who speaks from experience. The idea that amputees with cutting-edge prosthetics are somehow at an advantage over runners using their own legs is ludicrous. If it were true, amputees would regularly be besting non-amputees. This is simply not the case. And as Reinersten points out, amputees can’t compete without prosthetics. So they shouldn’t be punished for using them.
Read Reinertsen’s entire piece here. She makes a compelling argument for amputee athletes in any form of competition.
Live coverage of the Paralympic Games is available online at ParalympicSportTV on YouTube. Sadly, no television coverage is available in the U.S., despite the fact that Team USA sent a delegation of 227 athletes. It’s a missed opportunity by NBC if you ask me.
A complete schedule of events at the Paralympic Games is available at London2012.com.Photo: Seahawk214/Wikimedia Commons via a Creative Commons license