Monday, September 3, 2012

The Bionic Olympian

I was recently watching "The Next Step" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNNHD cable channel.

Recently, we had the Summer Olympics in London, England. In this Olympics, the runner known at the "Blade Runner" was allowed to compete. I said it then and I'll say it again that I do not believe that should be allowed.
"Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius (born 22 November 1986) is the South African sprint runner known as the "Blade Runner" and "the fastest man on no legs". Pistorius, who has a double below-knee amputation, is the world record holder for T44 in the 100, 200 and 400 metres events and runs with the aid of Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs by Ă–ssur. He competes in T44 (single below knee amputees) events though he is actually classified in T43 (double below knee amputee)." - Wikipedia

"In the end, At the 2012 Summer Olympics on 4 August 2012, Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympic Games. In the 400 meters race, he took second place in the first heat of five runners, finishing with a time of 45.44 seconds (his best time of the season so far) to advance to the semi-finals on 5 August. He ran in the second semi-final, where he finished eighth and last with a time of 46.54 seconds." - Wikipedia

After I first heard the official consideration and reasoning, I backed off on my contention that to allow him to run was unfair to the full bodied runners. They decided that there as no advantage to his running with his prosthetics, and in fact they were a slight disadvantage. If someone wants to run with a disadvantage, that is their decision (within reason) and makes their achievements all the more rewarding and laudatory. Right?

As long as competitors have 100% of their normal function, but not as a "special" Olympian so that they should or could, be in the "Para Olympics". That is, Olympians should not be using drugs, hormones, prosthetics, or bionic devices.

When I watched the episode of "The Next Step" about Dr. Hugh Herr, a double amputee himself, from MIT's Bioelectronics Group, I found it a fascinating report about an interesting researcher and a very important series of inventions and discoveries through their very dedicated, hard works.

The decision of the Olympics seems to disregard certain considerations of elements of the body under duress, its repair and damage. It is physically impossible for Pistorius to ever have a torn ligament in his foot as he has no foot. He will never damage his Achilles tendon, or have to try and heal it before a match, or to run with it damaged to some degree. And if a runner were running with such damage, what about running against someone like Pistorius who does not have that same risk factors?

Pistorius will never pull a muscle in a race in a body part that he no longer has. How is that at all fair to the other runners who are taking that risk, who do have a chance of turning their ankle and falling in a race, to be running against someone for whom that risk factor has been completely eliminated?

I fear that in the attempt of the Olympic Committee to not seem unfair to one individual, and in  opening the door for others like him in the future, they are being unfair to all the athletes who are competing and all those who will never make it into the Olympics, who have tried so hard for so long, but will never make it.

It was mentioned in the Dr. Gupta show about how we use machines like bicycles and now there are competitions on bicycles. We may one day have competitions with bionic individuals. But the main reason for the Olympics is to take a fully complete, unextraordinarily enhanced, human being with all their natural functioning and then to compete against another similar human being, to let nature as much as possible take its course and in the end, to see one individual as victorious over another.

I truly believe we need to have individuals who are using all their natural being as compared equally to the other contestants, and that means they need to have all their body parts. There are other competitions they can compete in if they do not have their original and natural parts. But we need to keep the Olympics as basic and as natural as possible. There simply should be no question about the competitors.

I have always been forward looking and accepting in using new technologies and in most areas, I would be all for bionics. I am all for people finding their full potential and superseding that potential whenever possible. But in an organization such as the Olympics, we should not be allowing individuals who need prosthetics.

I would even argue possibly, against those who have to have new cell tissue replacement (though I believe that may be a small enough issue as to not be a concern), muscle tissue, ligaments, etc., as these would be young elements, newly defined within the body; while the others competing have had to work with what they have had since birth, and that is after all, part and parcel of the competitive experience. I would argue even against allowing competitors with bone replacements, if they put in a different material than they were born with. I've heard that bone replacement materials actually do have a different type of flexibility and density factor and that would be wrong. I don't think body element replacements should either enhance or detract from a potential competitor.

It isn't impossible to be born and grow through hard work to become an Olympic competitor. Although certainly we cannot all make it. That could be considered as sad for most of the people of the world who would want to compete, but really it's not. Rather it is celebratory for those who can achieve it, who can make it to that level and who can actually be accepted to compete. But those who are allowed to compete have to be as basically normal as possible.

That being said, I also do not think that we need to turn it into some kind of religion, or purist consideration; but to some degree, yes, we do. If someone needed a ligament replaced, that may even be  just fine. But if it has a different flexibility, tensile strength, etc., we really do need to consider how fair that is to those we know may damage their own ligament through the trials and tribulations of competition.

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