Disability Versus Body Hacks: Oscar Pistorius

I’ll bet that other people who get around on carbon-fiber Flex Foot Cheetahs and other advanced tech body-mods are reading this NYT piece with a knowing glint in their eyes. But I think the questions raised over whether or not Oscar Pistorius should be allowed to compete in the Olympics are extremely interesting, and not due to what “an athlete should look like” but rather calling to attention that the lines between body hacks and disability were being blurred long ago, and that artificial parts now outperform bio-grown parts for certain tasks — functions many see as essential cornerstones in what make us human. Like walking and running. Plus, I think that some people would probably prefer to see so-called disabled people stay that way — not become, instead, physically superior. Snip:

MANCHESTER, England, May 14 – As Oscar Pistorius of South Africa crouched in the starting blocks for the 200 meters on Sunday, the small crowd turned its attention to the sprinter who calls himself the fastest man on no legs.
Pistorius wants to be the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. But despite his ascendance, he is facing resistance from track and field’s world governing body, which is seeking to bar him on the grounds that the technology of his prosthetics may give him an unfair advantage over sprinters using their natural legs.
His first strides were choppy Sunday, a necessary accommodation to sprinting on a pair of j-shaped blades made of carbon fiber and known as Cheetahs. Pistorius was born without the fibula in his lower legs and with other defects in his feet. He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. At 20, his coach says, he is like a five-speed engine with no second gear.
Yet Pistorius is also a searing talent who has begun erasing the lines between abled and disabled, raising philosophical questions: What should an athlete look like? Where should limits be placed on technology to balance fair play with the right to compete? Would the nature of sport be altered if athletes using artificial limbs could run faster or jump higher than the best athletes using their natural limbs?
Once at full speed Sunday, Pistorius handily won the 100 and 200 meters here at the Paralympic World Cup, an international competition for disabled athletes. A cold, rainy afternoon tempered his performances, but his victories came decisively and kept him aimed toward his goal of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, even though international track officials seek to block his entrance.

Link (includes video).
See also: Slate’s piece last year on the controversy over Pistorius, Racing Tall: A Paralympian stands accused of getting an illegal leg up

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One comment on “Disability Versus Body Hacks: Oscar Pistorius
  1. Hi V, folks interested in body hacks might enjoy the one day event conducted at MIT Media Lab recently and available for viewing at http://h20.media.mit.edu/
    The afternoon session includes a great discussion and presentation with Aimee Mullins who helped to develop the Cheetah Foot.
    The entire program is wonderful – lots of ingenious techyum to be had. :)

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