Twenty-four years after a year-old baby had his legs amputated in a South African hospital after being born without fibulae, that same child had grown into one of the world’s fastest 400-meter runners.
“The Blade Runner,” they call Pistorius. “The fastest man with no legs.” The 25-year-old motored toward the finish line of his preliminary heat here, his prosthetics click-click-clicking as he passed a Russian to qualify for Sunday’s semifinals.
“The experience to be here is a dream come true,” said Pistorius, the first amputee to run in an able-bodied Olympic Games. “I’ve worked for six years to try and make the 400 standard, and to come out today is just an unbelievable experience.”
He added, “It’s very difficult to separate the occasion from the race.”
Harder still is separating historical achievement from hot-button controversy. On the best day of his competitive life, Pistorius was not asked how many other children born without limbs he made feel whole again. Instead: Does a man with two ultra-light prosthetics have an unfair competitive advantage over able-bodied competitors?
“The moment in athletic history when engineered limbs outperform biological limbs has already passed,” two scientists told Sports Illustrated in 2009. Their findings were released in the Journal of Applied Physiology. They came out after the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a ban by track and field’s international governing body and allowed Pistorius to compete against able-bodied runners in international competition.
Though the research has been equally refuted and supported by scientists, doctors and lawyers on both sides of the issue, the fight won’t go away: Is a double amputee more fortunate than any of us realized?
To all who ask, to those who have spent more money and hours on the science of “leg-swing times” than they have ensuring another child isn’t born without bones beneath his knees, I want to know:
Would you swap your two legs for Pistorius’s prosthetics to find out?
Johnson, the world record holder in the 400 (and formerly in the 200) and a friend of Pistorius, nonetheless declared, “My position is that because we don’t know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics that he wears it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors.” To Johnson, I want to know:
Are record times so much of your identity that you stay up late, worrying that a man with prosthetics is somehow a precursor to your marks being shattered by a Transformer — or, worse, a human Norelco razor?
To type-A track world, our gatekeepers of the almighty split time, how many more words will be spent explaining to able-bodied runners that, contrary to popular thinking for 2,000 years, athletes born without limbs were, in actuality, the lucky ones?