Imagine if Rudy were not only undersized and an underdog but lacked legs. And you rooted against him.
That’s what I’m about to do. Sort of.
Technically, I wasn’t rooting against Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee who first qualified for the Olympics in the 400-meter dash and then made the semifinal round. Watching him excel in one of the most grueling races in the sport and on one of the biggest stages in the world was astounding – in part because of the unimaginable backstory and in part because his body cast an unfamiliar shadow on the track. The scene could have been mistaken for CGI.
What’s more, he seemed genuinely thrilled and humble and graceful in victory and defeat. Inspirational doesn’t begin to describe what went down in London.
However, I’m torn about whether any of it should have transpired. Let me explain.
Pistorius is missing legs because of a birth defect. A) He did not choose to become the Blade Runner, as he’s known – he just wanted to run and prosthetic fibulas were his only option. B) They are without question incredible pieces of technology, to the point that he had to go to court in order to gain entry into the Games. Do they truly provide an edge? Maybe they do (no worries about shin splints) and maybe they don’t (there must be some stump soreness). But is it really that much of a stretch to think somebody might purposely and artificially modify their body in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage?
Nope. That’s the basis for using performance-enhancing drugs. Now, maybe, hopefully, a person wouldn’t do something as extreme as elective amputation, especially since it wouldn’t guarantees success. I mean, if the odds of an able-bodied person making the Games are infinitesimal, what must they be for a person without legs, space-age prosthetics or not? Still, genetic selection and cloning is possible right now, and renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil claims it’s only a matter of time until robotic enhancements can be made at the cellular level.
For now, the Olympics can probably get by making case-by-case judgments; it wouldn’t be difficult for Pistorius and his family to prove the circumstances of his situation. But the argument of man and machine and legal and fair may have to be come an all or nothing proposition, at which point the Games become as much science fair as physical competition. If that comes to fruition, so be it; we’ll all adjust.
But for now? Well, it’s not unreasonable to see why Pistorius initially was denied entry to the Games – it’s just not fun to think about. (In fact, I feel sort of gross writing this post.) We like, want and in some cases need to be inspired.
Yet we’ve also been taught to value fairness. Good luck sorting out fair from foul in this scenario. Is it fair that Pistorius was born without legs? Is it fair that he gets to use non-human parts to qualify for the Olympics? Is it fair to exclude him on the grounds that it could encourage future cheating?
It’s a shame this has to be spun forward because it was one marvelous moment.