Do prosthetic legs give disabled athletes an unfair advantage?
Disabled athletes have been trying to level the playing field with able bodied ones for the longest time. Along came a specially designed prosthetic leg called the Cheetah and it seemed to really even things out. The artificial legs were so good that they gave one disabled athlete the ability to become the fastest disabled sprinter on the planet.
Oscar Pistorius is one of the best Paralympic athletes in the world. He runs on Cheetah prosthetic legs and is even able to beat able bodied runners. After all his successes, an interesting development took place, the governing body of running claimed that Pistorius’ artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage over able bodied runners. Is this a fair assessment or is it a huge controversy in the world of disabled athletics?
Pistorius was born without the fibula in his lower legs and other defects in his feet. He had both his lower legs amputated at a very early age but that did not stop a lifelong ambition to run. Growing up he was a very competitive athlete and a natural runner. He started to compete professionally but then he really started to shine when he got his first pair of Cheetah prosthetic legs. With the advanced technology in the artificial legs, he was able to adjust his running style to massively increase his speeds.
The Cheetah leg, which is made from carbon fibre, is extremely lightweight, yet very strong. It is one of the best running aids that disabled runners could have ever received. It really helped to propel Pistorius to the limelight and helped him to become the fastest Parlaympian on the planet. He has been able to post record breaking times during the Paralympics of 10.91 seconds in the 100 metres, 21.58 seconds in the 200 metres and 46.34 seconds in the 400 metres. He blew away the competition with these times, but the interesting thing is the fact that he is simply a fast athlete, because other disabled athletes also have access to the Cheetah technology. Pistorius wanted to be able to compete with able bodied athletes and be the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympic Games.
Therein lays the problem for the disabled sprinter. The governing body of worldwide track and field athletics, the I.A.A.F., has recently banned the use of technological aides in the sport. With this ruling, they have effectively ruined Pistorius’ dream of running in the Olympics. The body claims that the Cheetah prosthetic legs give the runner an unfair advantage against other runners. This is one of the most controversial and debatable rulings in the sport. Do the artificial limbs give the South African runner an unfair advantage or do they help to level the playing field for him? This question has been puzzling people in the sport for a long time.
The two sides to this debate both have strong arguments. On the one hand the people who say it gives an athlete an unfair advantage say that the use of the legs should be restricted to the Paralympics and not enter into the Olympics. They claim that even though a disabled athlete does not have legs, putting on the artificial legs gives them a huge advantage over able bodied ones because the legs enable the disabled runners to push off from the starting block and take off with a bang. The springing quality of the carbon fibre legs gives the runner the ability to extend their stride and they run at the same pace as able bodied runners. The other side to this equation claim that the legs do not give an athlete an undue advantage. They simply work to bring out a runner’s natural talent. It is the same way that a great pair of shoes does not make a person run faster but they do aid the runner to reach their highest potential. The same way not every disabled athlete can post times as fast as Pistorius but he can do it because he is a gifted and talented athlete. His ability to run fast does not come from the prosthetic legs but from his own natural ability to run.
This debate looks all set to rage on for many years and it just seems as if disabled athletes will not get a chance to compete with able bodied athletes. It could be seen as discrimination to not allow Pistorius to run in the Olympics but it could also be that finally disabled athletes are being treated as regular people and similar restrictions are placed on them too. The future looks very bright for disabled runners but we will have to wait and see if one of them is ever allowed in the Olympics.