This is a big moment, friends. This Saturday, double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius will join the small handful of athletes in history to make the cover of the New York Times Magazine, and the accompanying profile of him is a must-read. The article devotes an incredible 6,000+ words to telling Oscar’s story, outlining his climb to the heights of the international track circuit, and assessing the controversy regarding whether or not his prosthetic legs give him a competitive edge.
The profile, written by Michael Sokolove, points out that Pistorius isn’t using particularly new technology:
The artificial legs Pistorius runs on, called Flex-Foot Cheetahs and manufactured by an Icelandic company, have been a point of contention, and he has had to fight efforts to exclude him. But amputees have been running on the Cheetahs since the late 1990s. None have approached his best time, 45.07 seconds, in the 400 meters.
Still, scientific opinion differs on how Pistorius’ prostheses shape his running style and ability. On the one hand, his artificial legs are lighter than biological ones, but on the other, they throw off his balance and make him slower off the starting blocks. However, given my experiences following the disability sports scene, I came away agreeing with scientist Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
“In our society, we are trained to believe in a very narrow sense of beauty and physical power,” Herr said when I visited him at M.I.T. “A woman must be shaped in a certain way. Smart people look a certain way. When society sees Oscar winning against that perfect athletic form that they’ve been told of, there’s a confusion in the brain that immediately goes: ‘He can’t be a great athlete. It has to be the artificial legs.’ ”
Yes, this article is a long one, but it’s also required reading for anyone who claims an interest in disability sport. Dig it.