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Friday, February 15, 2008

Pistorius Appeals Olympic Ban

Multiple news papers are reporting that Oscar Pistorius has appealed to the Court of Arbitration (CAS) against his ban from running at the Beijing Olympics with two prostheses. As discussed in previous entries, Pistorius was banned the IAAF from competing against non disabled athletes because his prostheses know as Cheetahs gave him an unfair advantage. This ban was based on two days of studies conducted by Peter Bruggeman at the German Sport University.

According to Pistorius, several studies conducted in the United States have contradicted the findings of Professor Bruggeman. The dispute centers around the amount of energy absorbed and returned by Pistorius' below the knee prostheses. This is the mechanical or biological source of disagreement between Pistorius and the IAAF. While I am not qualified to render an opinion on whether Pistorius' prostheses give him a competative advantage, I hardly think a two day study can provide conclusive evidence he should not run. This point has been made by Pistorius' lawyer who stated "The tests that were performed, we believe, were completely flawed and inadequate".

What interests me are the social implications of Pistorius' ban. Why, I wonder, did no one objected to Pistorius presence until he started to post impressive Olympic quality times and beat competators who raced without prostheses? This point has not been missed by Pistorius who in July ran in the 400 meters B race at the Golden Gala in Rome placing second. Pistorius has repeatedly stated that he would have preferred to keep his appeal within the athletic community--he simply wanted to be treated with the same respect as any other world class athlete. Instead, Pistorius has been forced to take his appeal public because he knows it is the only way he will be treated fairly. Pistorius also knows that his appeal has wider significance. He stated that was filing his "appeal not just for myself but for all disabled athletes. We deserve a chance to compete at the highest levels if our bodies permit us to do so".

I doubt Pistorius appeal will result in victory. Sporting events such as the Olympic Games are about much more than sports. They are laden with rampant nationalism and deep symbolic meaning. This leads me to speculate that Pistorius simply does not look like a world class athlete that most people imagine. Runners run with two feet. Winners walk up to and on a raised podium while the national anthem plays. This vision has not changed in more than a century. Thus Pistorius mere presence upsets this tradition and is a social affront to other athletes and viewers of the Olympic Games.

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