Let me start with the story of South African sprinter and double-leg amputee Oscar Pistorius, the “fastest man on no legs.” He wants to be the first runner with an amputee to compete in the Olympics. There’s an interesting story about it here
in the NY Times.
The International Association of Athletics Federations
originally tried to bar him from competition in the Olympics because his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage—a decision that was recently overturned in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
He didn’t quite make the Olympic qualifying time to compete in Beijing, but he’s still young so his journey is just beginning. The problem for him is that competing in the Paralympics is just too easy; he’s a guy who can beat most able-bodied athletes in his event.
The goal of the Paralympics is to provide meaningful competition where the athlete is successful despite the disability, not because of it. But in Pistorius’s case, I would argue that for him the competition may even be a little boring because it’s so easy—and thus not very meaningful.
So, should he be able to compete with able bodied athletes in the Olympics if he meets the time standard? To me, that seems like a pretty easy question: give the guy a chance!
But let’s turn the argument on it’s head and then see what you think: how about an able-bodied guy who has grown up with a mother with a disability. She’s in a wheelchair, and she races marathons in it. Instead of going out on weekend bike rides with her, he has his own wheelchair so that they can both train together in wheelchairs. Now he wants to compete in the marathon for the Paralympics.
Would you let him?
In the early days of Paralympic sport, competition was more about participation than performance. That’s all different today: the Paralympics model the Olympics in terms of training volume and intensity, competitiveness, drive, and talent.
One of the hardest jobs of the International Paralympic Committee
is to continually update and modify the system that they use to classify competitors in the Paralympics. This system can prove to be difficult and even controversial
From a purely administrative view, organizing events can be a nightmare—some events like the 100m sprint have over 70 races because of all the different classifications of competitors (male, female, single-leg amputees, double-leg amputees, different degrees of impairment due to cerebral palsy, etc).
In my view, the committee is doing a good job—probably the best job they can, even though the system probably isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, I think there are some interesting discussions to be had, so let’s do it here.