Oscar Pistorius loses, now what?

Written by on September 3rd, 2012 // Filed under Olympics

After last night’s surprise result with Alan Fonteles Oliveira beating Oscar Pistorius in the 200m final, I’ve been asked by a few journalists for a comment. Here’s what I’ve got to say on the matter:

FINAL UPDATE:  “The deeper issue underpinning this debate is what counts as a legitimate human within either Olympic and Paralympic sport. This is why the fall of Oscar Pistorius is more important than the fall of any other athlete before him, even Lance Armstrong. This is because Pistorius symbolizes the rise of the cyborg and the demise of the natural human. If his loss yesterday was fair, two conclusions are possible. Either, there are more like him coming and this will spark a tidal wave of change within Olympic and Paralympic sport, but, more broadly, in how society perceives ability. If his loss was unfair, then we may ask whether it is ok to transcend the normal human body and change people in a way that bears no resemblance to species typical norms. Either way, the debacle is a step forward for a transhuman view of sport, the only sure winner of which is technology. Just in case this is unclear, I think this is good for sport, as it exposes what has been there under the surface for some time. In fact, as the technology progresses to the nanoscale, our reinforcements – our prosthetics – will become imperceptible to the naked eye.”

UPDATE: “Many people have asked why Pistorius didn’t change his prosthetic blades as well, but any alteration would have prevented him from competing in the Olympic Games too, since the clause of his inclusion was very narrow defined. It seems daft to me that the IAAF and the IPC have a different definition of what is the appropriate length of a prosthetic device for a person to use. Of course, they don’t. It’s just that the IAAF don’t have a definition at all, since they would prefer Pistorius not to enter the Olympic Games. However, Pistorius has suffered from wanting to remain eligible for each Games. It is a terrible world where a person with a disability must compromise their status within a disability community to be eligible for participation in a non-impaired world.  Pistorius raised the concern about the length of the new prosthetic devices some weeks ago. This is not sour grapes, it is a person who has a legitimate concern who feels it is not being heard. What’s more, he is not alone in having raised this. I found his post-race interview quite uncalculated and measured. Not a tantrum at all”

“It would be a mistake to say that Oscar has been beaten at his own game, but critics have drawn parallels to his concern about Alan Fonteles Oliveira with arguments against Oscar’s participation within the Olympic Games.”

“The IPC have said that Oliveira’s legs are within the rules, but here we have another debate about what the rules should be in the first place. Oscar’s concern indicates that these athletes have changed their legs recently in such a way as to betray the rules, but only an inquiry will change this decision now. It sounds to me that there ought to be one, since it is highly unusual that an athlete should gain such great speed in the final stretch and that they could so dramatically change their running times from one Games to the next”

“It’s hard to understand how a Paralympian could adjust their prosthetics in such a way as to dramatically alter their height, but the concern seems to be that the Paralympic rules are not tight enough.”

“If the rules are all agreed, then last night was a great night for Paralympic sport. It needs more people who can compete with Oscar Pistorius to really bring about a change in the argument over whether there should be just one Games. With more athletes reaching the same level of Pistorius, I think we are closer to that point”

“This situation may be a reason to force Paralympians to use the same kind of technology, of course, adjusting to their individual body types.”

“The big question emerging from the race last night is whether the Paralympic rules within the T43 200m race need to be tighter. It’s normal that a past winner should face young challengers and that they should eventually dethrone the champion. However, this looks like an unusual win and the concerns have been raised by other Paralympians about athletes adjusting their
blade dimensions.”

“If Oliveira’s prosthetic legs are bigger and better and legal, then Pistorius really ought to get some. If his body height precludes this and the only reason why Alan Fonteles Oliveira has longer blades is that he is taller, then Pistorius has been beaten by a more
biologically privileged athlete. However, there might be an argument to divide athletes by height as well as disability – and this is something I’ve argued should be applied not just to Paralympic sport, but also the Olympics. In the same way that we separate athletes in weight divisions, height also has a huge impact on likely achievements”

“On a more subjective level, I’ve watched the race countless times now and it looked to me like Oliveira was much more reliant on momentum than Pistorius”

Professor Andy Miah is Director of the Creative Futures Institute at
the University of the West of Scotland and is author of ‘The Olympics’
(2012).