South African athlete Oscar Pistorius runs during a training session
Oscar Pistorius was born with a congenital condition that left him without his fibula in both legs. As a result, his legs were amputated below the knee when he was only eleven-months-old. Doctors didn’t think he would ever stand, let alone be able to play sports.
Nevertheless, Pistorius will be competing in the 400-meter dash and 1,600-meter relay at this year’s London Olympics. He is joining the track team from South Africa as their 125th and final participant. While Pistorius’s story is an inspirational one, it also comes with the footnote that he will not be going home with a medal. The carbon-fiber prosthetic legs Pistorius uses put him at a serious disadvantage to the other competitors, although they did earn him a pretty cool nickname: “Blade Runner.” Pistorius’s presence is notable in another regard; just five years ago he was banned from participating in international track events due to a perceived advantage of having to expend less energy than able-bodied competitors.
Experts have gone back and forth on this, but the general consensus is that he does not receive any quantifiable advantage over his fellow runners. What side do you fall on? Is this the epitome of the indomitable spirit of the Olympics? Or is it foolish to allow someone to compete who isn’t going to win? How is Pistorius handling this newfound attention?
Vijay Gupta, Ph.D., Professor of Engineering, UCLA
Brian Frasure, National Clinical Specialist for I-Walk, a company that produces bionic prosthetics; former U.S. Paralympian athlete. Competed in the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia where he won a silver medal in the men’s 100 meters.