What is a foot race?

London 2012 Olympics: Games legend Michael Johnson believes Oscar Pistorius has an ‘unfair advantage’

Oscar Pistorius is a double amputee who runs track using prosthetic legs. Some say this may give him an unfair advantage over whole bodied individuals.

I say that it poses and interesting question into the purposes of track and field competitions. Say two people, Adam and Bert, are competing in a foot race. Each competitor trains 8 hours a day, has the best equipment, and is in top physical form. But runner Adam was born with a slight genetic edge over runner Bert, so Adam wins. Is it fair to reward Adam for a characteristic over which he has no control?

Individual competitions such as track and field support the false idea that hard work and dedication is rewarded by success and gold medals. We know intellectually that not everyone can be an Olympic class athlete, but we like to forget it while we watch the competitions. A man using technology to win a competition shatters our shared illusion. It forces us to question the very nature of what we’re watching, the values that underlie our competitions.

A classic footrace rewards the person with the best combination of training and genes. A footrace which allows technological augmentation rewards the person with the best combination of training, genes, and gear. Perhaps the addition of this last factor is enough to permanently shatter the illusion of meritocracy in sport. Perhaps not.


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