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Prosthetic-Limbed Runner Disqualified from Olympic Games 509

Posted by Zonk
from the street-sams-are-right-around-the-corner dept.
contraba55 wrote with a link to an Engadget story on a sign of the postmodern times. Oscar Pistorius, a world-class sprinter, has been denied a shot at participating in the Olympics this year. He's a double-amputee, but he's not out because of his handicap; he's disqualified because he's faster than most sprinters. "The runner — who uses carbon-fiber, prosthetic feet — was reviewed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (or IAAF), a review which found the combination of man and machine to be too much for its purely human competitors. According to the IAAF report, the 'mechanical advantage of the blade in relation to the healthy ankle joint of an able bodied athlete is higher than 30-percent.' Additionally, Pistorius uses 25-percent less energy than average runners due to the artificial limbs, therefore giving him an unfair advantage on the track."
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Prosthetic-Limbed Runner Disqualified from Olympic Games

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  • man... (Score:5, Funny)

    by jtroutman (121577) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:22PM (#22086312)
    I bet he's kicking himself now
  • by Buran (150348) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:23PM (#22086330)
    This is the first time I've heard of a handicapped person being discriminated against because they're too good. As someone who's hard of hearing, I find 99% of bias against me coming from the fact that I'm not good enough.
    • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#22086382)
      Well, it's not really "him" that's disqualified. I'm sure he's welcome to compete without the spring-legs. I don't say that to be glib, but heck, even a bicycle could be called an extension of yourself if you strapped it on. You have to draw the line.
    • by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#22086384) Homepage
      Why is he being discriminated against?

      People are not allowed to use technical assistance in competitions. You wouldn't let someone run the 100 meters with shoes with wheels and a gasoline engine, would you?

      While the limbs this fellow is using are not as good as gasoline engines, they are still apparently better than natural limbs - an advantage other athletes can not overcome without amputating their legs.

      It's the same logic used in regards to banning steroids - you shouldn't have to destroy your body to have a chance at winning.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        To be fair, people would have to run against people of the exact same size, wieght, shape and metabolism, and preferably have psychological and neurological tests done to make sure they are of the same mental AND physical makeup, otherwise one athlete will have an advantage over another.

        This example of the blade runner just amplifies the unfairness of the Olympics, and it's rather farcical nature. As far as I know there is no way to absolutely and conclusively test for substances (hormones, or otherwise) th
      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:46PM (#22086686) Homepage
        Barry Bonds testified today before a Congressional committee that he had never used performance-enhancing double-amputation prosthetic-limb-replacement surgery, in accordance with MLB policy.

        He then bounded over the table and out the door at 40mph.
      • by grumpyman (849537)
        Honestly I don't think it's a matter of "better" or "worse", but it's definitely DIFFERENT. It's definitely not fair (both ways).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geek (5680)
      If you were implanted with special hearing aids that gave you 30% better hearing than others you would see things differently. That's what's going on here. We've made advances in prosthetics that in some cases, make them better than actually having limbs. No muscles to tire, extra spring in the steps and so forth.
      • by Buran (150348)
        And yet, there are individuals with extremely acute hearing who aren't banned from competitions that require hearing in some way. What is the difference? As someone else pointed out, there are individuals with a natural advantage over others who still can enter competitions... and I don't mean steroid-filled baseball players.
      • So:

        - less energy consumption
        - less load on various blood processing organs
        - better performance
        - lightweight

        ... they might be on to something here. If they did arms too, and there was no loss of motor control... like that guy said in response to someone asking "why," why not?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Otter (3800)
      Wheelchair racers aren't recognized as the overall winners of marathons, even though they're far faster than runners. I don't understand why that's completely acceptable but there's so much controversy over this guy, who is doing pretty much the same thing.
      • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:41PM (#22086610) Journal
        It seems more obvious that "Wheels = disqualification" than it does that "Prosthetic legs = disqualification." I suspect a lot of it is due to the fact that people are imagining him running on the sort of "around town" prosthetics that most amputees use for day to day walking, rather than the carbon fibre arcs that he actually runs on.

        Just looking at them, it's debatable as to whether or not its an advantage, but assuming the science was done correctly, a large mechanical advantage over an unmodified human should be grounds for disqualification from events that only feature unmodified humans. That's just math.
        • by Bombula (670389) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:35PM (#22087376)
          I'm all for a 'modified' Olympics. There was a funny SNL skit years ago that featured the 'All-Steroid Olympics'. I actually think it's a great idea, and not just with drugs but with any body modification people can imagine. You could have simple rules, like banning wheels for certain 'foot' races, etc, but I'd love to see what people come up with. Hell, major league sports are exciting because of the incredible feats these guys perform. If they need steroids or plastic legs to do it, so what? Given the steroid situation in MLB in the news recently, I think the verdict from the public is already pretty much in on this: if it means they hit more home runs, let these animals juice themselves into oblivion if they want to. They're adults; it's their choice.
    • by Itninja (937614) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:28PM (#22086438) Homepage
      I have friends in the deaf community, and I have seen others show discomfort around them because their communication methods are (according to some) more advanced. My friends can carry on complete conversations, silently, from across the room - using ASL. And they can, by lip reading, tell what others are saying even if they are out of voice range.
    • by autocracy (192714)
      That's because you don't have artificial ears that have a characteristic db gain, or a built-in DSP. Humans more or less have a tendency to rip on anything not exactly like them... better or worse.

      Stupid people drag you down to their level, then beat you with the home-court advantage :-P

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elBart0 (444317)
      They're not discriminating against him, or even all prosthetic limbs. They are simply saying that those particular prosthetics give an unfair mechanical advantage. Someone else is free to develop different prosthetic legs that do not give as much of a mechanical advantage, and those may, possibly, be acceptable.
  • by raehl (609729) <raehl311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:23PM (#22086334) Homepage
    The runner wasn't disqualified. The artificial limbs he had been using were prohibited.

    It's still possible for the runner to compete, so long as he does not use equipment that gives him an unfair advantage.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      So we strap shoes to his nubs?

      I can see it now - "Dorf on Olympics"...
    • So... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Rix (54095)
      Should people with longer legs be disqualified for the same reason?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This is why we need two versions of the Olympics: one for "normals" and another for "mutants" (where anything goes). In no time at all people will quit watching the normal version, and we can finally get to the freak show version of the Olympics people want, where people can use steroids, graft on muscle, bionic parts, flippers, etc.
      • by Joe Tie. (567096) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @09:13PM (#22088396)
        I've wanted this ever since I watched the Olympics and realized how bored I was. Putting people who won the genetic lottery into similar training programs and seeing who comes out on top isn't that interesting to me. But pushing people 'beyond' their natural limits, and in the process potentially expanding the meaning of being human and the possibilities for the species at large...that's interesting.
  • good, no precedent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Weh (219305) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:24PM (#22086350)
    I bet that if he would have been allowed to compete some athletes would have been tempted to have certain parts of their bodies amputated and replace with more efficient artificial parts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Patentmat (846401)

      I bet that if he would have been allowed to compete some athletes would have been tempted to have certain parts of their bodies amputated and replace with more efficient artificial parts.

      The Onion is already got this: "Olympic Runners Feeling Stupid For Cutting Off Legs Before Finding Out About Prosthetic Ban" http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/olympic_runners_feeling [theonion.com]

  • by Tungbo (183321) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:25PM (#22086362)
    The 'blade' does look like a spring. When he's just walking around, one can see him bouncing up and donw a bit. So this seems reasonable. He might qualify if he used a different prosthetic technology. I just hope athletes don't start thinking about replacing their naturla legs to get 'a leg up'!
    • by rolfwind (528248)

      I just hope athletes don't start thinking about replacing their naturla legs to get 'a leg up'!


      I'd think you'd have to be pretty damned dedicated (and psycho) to do that. Personally, I think if a competition sport starts asking that much from their athletes that most athletes would just rather move to a new (perhaps related) sport.

      Effects of steroids is delayed pain -- a missing leg or two would have immediate downsides.
      • by Loke the Dog (1054294) on Friday January 18, 2008 @07:55AM (#22091458)
        I think you're underestimating how dedicated most pro athletes are. They wouldn't think twice about cutting of their legs if thats what it took.

        Many of them actually have constant pain that they just ignore because the doc told them it won't get worse. Its a fact that they get much shorter lives than other people. They start at a very young age, and have no "normal" life from that point on. I could go on, but the point is that what makes them different from the rest of us is not their bodies, but their minds. They are very often psychos. Try getting their honest opinion on politics and you'll realize that.
  • Get over it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Besna (1175279) * on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#22086388)
    I am a transhumanist--behind it all the way. Stories like this trivialize the serious nature of transhumanism. It's not about implanting a bike or something. It's about the relief of suffering, and the unlocking of our true abilities. Read Kurzweil's latest books. Go to Transworld or the Singularity Summit. Betterhumans.com is growing in quality. Sentientdevelopments.blogspot.com feature George Dvorsky, an experienced thinker and speaker. The wise atheists among us don't need to be told the obvious--that our disabled are quickly become our first transhumans. The real developments await.
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#22086390) Homepage
    He isn't disqualified because he is faster (he isn't faster than the fast guys) its because he is more efficient. What this means is that in a 400m race he has more energy coming down the last straight than the competition does which is clearly unfair.

    The only real surprise is that he hadn't worked this out and competed at the 800m, 1500m or even the 5,000m as that efficiency would really pay off.

    Its an artificial aid in the same was a drugs are or riding a bike would be. Its unfortunate for the chap but its the right decision, otherwise you might as well let Marion Jones back in with a terminator suit and a jet-pack.
  • Wait a minute... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bryansix (761547) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#22086396) Homepage
    SO "According to the IAAF report, the 'mechanical advantage of the blade in relation to the healthy ankle joint of an able bodied athlete is higher than 30-percent.' Additionally, Pistorius uses 25-percent less energy than average runners due to the artificial limbs, therefore giving him an unfair advantage on the track."

    I guess I won't be needing these anymore.
  • Let him run, his "disability" resulted in the amputation of his legs at only 11 months old iirc. If others want to compete - they can make the choice of cutting off their legs in order to compete on the same level... :)

    What I do find very interesting is how more effecient these are compared to normal human legs, surely we could so something similar with specialised running shoes/attachments ?
    • by rtechie (244489)

      surely we could so something similar with specialised running shoes/attachments?
      Absolutely, which is why we don't let runners compete with springs on their feet. Basically, this guy has replaced his lower legs with leaf springs. He would have even more of an advantage than the runners with springs on their feet because they're ADDING weight, he's subtracting it.

  • by microbee (682094) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:27PM (#22086420)
    for people just like him?

    It'd be unfair either way, for him or for the normal athletes.
    • That is an interesting observation. Normally he would probably qualify for the Special Olympics, but considering he cannot even compete in the standard Olympics, I am not sure where this leaves him... It's a catch-22, which seems unfortunate as he is obviously a commendable athlete.
    • Paralympics (Score:5, Informative)

      by Stripsurge (162174) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:04PM (#22086932) Homepage
      Special olympics are for mentally disabled athletes.

      He could however compete in the Paralympics which are geared towards physical disabilities such as amputees or blind people. They are held in the same year and same city as the regular olympics. The one catch with the paralympics is that because there are so many classifications disabilities they have to rotate through which type gets to compete each year. Think: you couldn't very well have someone missing a leg and a half swimming against someone only missing a foot. I can't remember exactly how many classifications of amputees there are but I think there are enough that an athlete might only get to compete in one Paralympics that falls into their particular condition.
    • by Botta (183054) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:09PM (#22086984)
      Its called the Paralympics and he has both a gold medal in the 200m and a bronze over the 100m in Athens 2004.



      More information here (yes i know, reliability etc. but i'm lazy) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Pistorius [wikipedia.org]

  • AS USUAL (Score:5, Informative)

    by initdeep (1073290) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:28PM (#22086428)
    The summary and the truth are far from the same....

    He's not out because he's "too fast"

    He's out because his specific prosthetic lower legs and feet have less wind resistance than normal legs, return WAY more energy per stride than normal legs, and offer him what amounts to a competitive advantage over other runners.

    If he wants to compete, he's free to do so, just not with those specific prosthesis.

    He can submit others to the Committee for acceptance all day long.

    This is no different than the way the olympic committee judges the use of certain swimsuits, softball bats, or any other equipment in use during the Olympics.

  • by Lucas123 (935744) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:28PM (#22086434) Homepage
    If you allowed a amputees who became superior athletes after their injuries to participate in the olympics and they began winning, everyone would start cutting off their legs.
    • by |deity| (102693)
      I agree 100%. Eventually all sprinters would have their legs surgically removed and replaced with high performance prosthetics. If we are going to allow this guy to race I say go ahead and let everyone have the option. They can put specs on the prosthetics that limit the materials or the mechanical design much like car racing.

      At that point we would have lots of cyborg runners.
  • Any downside? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GloomE (695185)
    Does anyone know of any downside to lopping your legs off below the knee and "installing" a pair of these?

    I know someone who's feet and ankle bones are fusing/disintegrating, why shouldn't they look forward to this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Phantom limb syndrome would be a pretty good reason. But then I don't know how bad the existing condition is. I recall a story of a woman who deliberately cut off her own legs because of a strange mental illness, 'body integrity identity disorder' it was called (thanks, Google!).
    • by Sciros (986030)

      Does anyone know of any downside to lopping your legs off below the knee
      Uhhhh... can't think of a single one... so go for it.
  • by sehlat (180760) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:32PM (#22086492)
    We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Oscar Pistorius will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.
  • Actually, the guy is amazing, but he is not that fast, in spite of the supposed advantage (and contrary to the FA). I think the IOC doesn't want to set a precedent. His times are comparable to 1920's world records for 100m, 200m and 400m, which is still pretty damn good ! (look up wikipedia [wikipedia.org] for all details). I'm not sure what the qualifying times are for the olympics, but I'm not positive he would make them.

    Of course he is also the world record holder in these 3 distances in the paralympics.
  • I think the far more important question is...

    Where can I get some of those carbon fiber feet?!

    Even if I just get a smaller version that fit over my shoes, I could walk a lot faster, lessen strain on my joints, jog farther and more efficiently, and slam dunk like nobody's business. Also, I would be taller.

    It seems like this would be good technology to work into a soldier's exoskeleton, too.
  • I remember back when I was on crutches, I was amazed at how quickly I could go fairly long distances with very little energy expenditure. Basically, you keep your arms stiff, stick the crutches in front of you and swing between them. I would zip by people on the sidewalk and about all it cost in terms of energy was bringing the crutches from behind me to in front of me. In terms of endurance, I could definitely go further at a quick pace on the crutches than I could on just my feet.

    Clearly the prosthetic le
  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:41PM (#22086614) Homepage
    I wonder how long it will be before cybernetic sports become a reality?

    I mean, think about it. Soccer can be a rough sport but it's nothing compared to American Football. The game is faster and rougher and vastly supported (and in my opinion enhanced) by technology (helmets, pads, shoes, etc). But that would be nothing if players were augmented in such a way to play faster / better / stronger.

    Granted, most athletes won't cut their feet off for speed enhancing powers a prosthetic might bestow just yet, but how far off are we from seeing "cybersports" develop and shift into the mainstream?
  • First of all, he got trashed in a race against olympic caliber sprinters earlier this year. Second, as one of the previous posts pointed out, his cyborg legs were disqualified not him. If he grows new legs, he's in. Third, there are at least two problems that led to the disqualification of the prosthetics, 1. the prosthetics provide less air resistance and second, they enable the wearer to reverse his energy efficiency; meaning that he is faster at the end of the race than at the beginning. Human sprinters
  • He could just go to the Special Olympics and whomp everyone else there.
  • by El_Smack (267329) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:06PM (#22086948)
    And I suppose PitchBot 9000 was just a modified Howitzer?
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:19PM (#22087160) Homepage Journal
    First, why he uses prosthetics isn't the issue. It doesn't matter how you came across the advantage, or even *why*. An unfair advantage is unfair. When asthmatics started competing well in Biathalon, other competitors started coming down with asthma, and taking beta blockers to reduce attacks. And also slow the heart rate to improve shooting accuracy. Darned if those crazy asthmatics didn't ruin it for everyone else, huh? I wonder if an asthmatic can even compete any more, of if they need a lifetime record of their disease to get the IOC to accept them, Albuterol and all.

    Second, while most anyone can get a set of limbs like this runner has, actually they can't without significant sacrifice, ie, amuptation. The IOC should, for the sake of decency, not permit that. Speed skaters only had to buy a pair of clapper skates - the barrier was either money or a willing supplier, neither of which was as expensive nor life-altering as amputation for sprinters. Cyclists go through this a lot, with new equipment and all. IIRC, the NBA may have banned a certain Nike sneaker because it assisted jumping too much. Yes, define 'too much'. the IOC has.

    Now, if the running community can come up with a similar prosthesis designed for non-amputees that offers the same or nearly equal advantage, then the IOC has an interesting, but easy decision to make. No. The solution isn't to give everyone else some mechanical advantage. It's to resign ourselves to the reality that life is so unfair that a dual amputee needs to use a less effecient prosthetic to compete fairly. And that way lies so much trouble. It becomes some sad exercise in statistics, engineering, and the frustation of figuring out what 'fair' is.

    We know fair doesn't include using drugs. And it may not even include using hypobaric chambers to enhance training, someday. It involves runners using the same basic equipment (their natural body, shoes available to all, etc).

    I wish this guy could compete. No doubt he will go back and have the limbs redesigned to be more equal to natural limbs. Then he might get a fair shake from the IOC. I hope they let him compete on equal terms.

    ps- If he got waxed by Olympic-caliber sprinters with the 'hot' limbs, that doesn't really change anything. It may be that he's not that good, but let him in and surely some runner will say they should be allowed to wear a prosthesis. And another. Chaos. Pure chaos.

  • by AnonymousCactus (810364) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:33PM (#22087330)

    I'm a distance runner. I love to run and I'm pretty fast. I also like to compete. The problem comes when you start having to decide what "fair" means. Is it fair for this guy not to be able to compete? Is it fair to give him an advantage in one aspect of biomechanics since he's at a disadvantage in others?

    Sports in many ways are doomed. Nothing's fair - environmental and genetic factors outside of one's control determine so much. For me, I run because it makes me feel good. I compete as a means to beating my own previous best. It's a romantic thought that sports are somehow fair and that winning comes solely from dedication and drive, but it's far from reality.

    I have no idea if this guy should be allowed to compete. It doesn't sound like he's fast enough to change the final placings. In the end, the most important aspect of him trying to race is that his case will help decide the fate of a number of other runners with different, but similar, stories. I, for one, just hope he keeps competing for himself and doesn't let this rejection sour him on running altogether. In the end, everyone gets slow...I like to think I'll enjoy competing in some sort of sports for the rest of my life.

  • by stu_coates (156061) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:49PM (#22087576)

    He's really been banned because his carbon footprint is too large! ;-)

    Unfortunate ad placement [fuckthe.eu].

  • by x0 (32926) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @09:03PM (#22088314) Homepage
    I've read nearly all of the comments thus far, and I have to say I'm pretty disappointed in the general lack of clue. I have had a prosthetic right leg for going on 13 years now. This is my third model.

    The first was pretty much carbon-fibre, carbon-carbon, and titanium. The foot [ossur.com] provided a bit of energy return to simulate the toe-push on pronation, but was not like the real thing.

    The second foot [oandp.com] added an articulated ankle which aided on uneven terrain, but was still not very lifelike.

    The third has similar foot to the first, but added a shock-absorber [ottobockus.com] and a vacuum system. Although this leg has some of the best of the current technology, at the end of the day, it sucks. [1]

    Understand that I can walk pretty well. Most days, or when I'm not tired from walking all day long, my gait is indistinguishable from other folks. However, even though my 'foot' does provide *some* energy return, it in no way approaches the muscular push-off normal toes provide when walking. (I expect most folks don't even know or feel that they do this any longer.) Of course, I don't have one of the sprinter foots this runner will use in competition. They are specific to that function and just wouldn't work as daily 'footwear'.

    All of that is immaterial. His feet don't 'give him way more energy' than a naturally footed sprinter. They can't. The only energy they store is that which is put there by the runner. I haven't studied his running style, but I expect that he has modified his style to maximize the energy put into the foot, and that the foot unloads the energy back into his lower leg on rolling off of the toe. Now, this is unnatural and required a great deal of training before he mastered it well enough to beat footed sprinters. I call bullshit on the IAAF.

    That energy is not 'free'. He's had to train to get more fit than footed runners because his gait will not be a natural bone/muscle gait.

    Oh, yeah, aerodynamics my ass...

    [1] Compared to a real foot.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by multiplexo (27356)

      Thank you for posting that. I've been an amputee for five years now (today is the fifth anniversary of the motorcycle accident that cost me my left leg below the knee). I have a kick ass foot [freedom-innovations.com] now, the third one that I've had and I joke that this is the second best leg I've ever had, but it's nowhere near as good as the best one I've ever had, which is to say the one that I was born with.

      Oscar Pistorius does not have an unfair advantage because of his prosthetics, that's sheer bullshit, he doesn't have a

    • by abigsmurf (919188) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @11:05PM (#22089230)
      "All of that is immaterial. His feet don't 'give him way more energy' than a naturally footed sprinter. They can't. The only energy they store is that which is put there by the runner. I haven't studied his running style, but I expect that he has modified his style to maximize the energy put into the foot, and that the foot unloads the energy back into his lower leg on rolling off of the toe. Now, this is unnatural and required a great deal of training before he mastered it well enough to beat footed sprinters. I call bullshit on the IAAF."

      When a regular foot hits the floor when running, almost all the energy is lost when it impacts the floor. There is almost no elasticity in the lower leg. This means when making the next stride, almost all the energy needed to maintain speed comes from muscles.

      When this carbon limb hits the ground, it flexes, storing some of the force rather than transferring it to the ground. When the next stride is made the carbon limb will want to relieve it's tension and will provide a force that will assist the muscles

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