Remember all the fuss last year about Oscar ‘Bladerunner’ Pistorius, the amputee athlete who was banned from competing against able-bodied runners in the Olympics because the authorities were concerned that his prosthetics might give him an unfair advantage? Well, it turns out that the authorities guessed wrong – recent research suggests that, far from conferring a performance edge, Pistorius’ blades are more likely to be putting him at a disadvantage:
Simon Choppin, a sports engineer at Sheffield Hallam University, said the Pistorius controversy rested on whether his prosthetics increased the efficiency of his limbs, allowing him to achieve higher speeds for less effort.
“So, simply, you can move the prosthetic quicker and you’re ready for the next step faster than someone who has a leg,” said Choppin. Another possible advantage was that the prosthetics might allow the athlete to get back more of the energy they put into the track compared with able-bodied athletes. “But this [Grabowski] paper suggests you’re at a disadvantage if you’ve got one of these blades.”
We can hope that the competition authorities will look at research like this and allow transhuman athletes to compete alongside everyone else, at least until more advanced prosthetics confer a genuine and insuperable advantage (which is bound to happen eventually). But given competitive sport’s strong role in maintaining the mythology of the perfect conformist human body image – think back to the disgusting treatment of Caster Semenya, for example – I suspect they’ll find some other reason to keep the Olympics “pure” and “fair”.