Techno-Doping or the Future of Sports Competition?

|

Legless sprinter Oscar Pistorius wants to participate in the Beijing Olympics. However, the I.A.A.F., the governing body of track and field sports has disqualified him. Why? Because amputee Pistorius uses high-tech carbon fiber blades known as Cheetahs. His time in a recent relay race might qualify him to participate in the Summer Olympics if he had legs. It is an open question about whether his Cheetahs give him an unfair advantage since, according to the New York Times, they return "only 80 percent of the energy absorbed in each stride while a natural leg returns up to 240 percent, providing much more spring."

The Times quotes Robert Gailey, an associate professor at the University of Miami Medical School who asks the I.A.A.F.,

"Are they looking at not having an unfair advantage? Or are they discriminating because of the purity of the Olympics, because they don't want to see a disabled man line up against an able-bodied man for fear that if the person who doesn't have the perfect body wins, what does that say about the image of man?"

An even more interesting question is asked by transhumanist George Dvorsky,

…given the 'arms race' nature of competition, will these positional advantages cause athletes to do something as seemingly radical as having their healthy natural limbs replaced by artificial ones? Is it self-mutilation when you're getting a better limb?

Sports are by definition governed by arbitrary rules, so, as far as I'm concerned, the governing bodies of various sports can make up and impose whatever new arbitrary rules they want. However, just as there is now a Paralympics for disabled athletes, there will one day be a Supralympics for enhanced athletes.

Whole New York Times article here .

NEXT: WWE Comes to Bhutan

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Insert obligatory mention of SNL “All-Drug Olympics” segment here.

  2. This whole concept of fairness strikes me as odd. The Olympics are a battle of the genetically gifted – and as we all know genetic gifts are not equitably distributed.

    If a 5’3″ 13yo dreams of being a b-ball player he knows that no matter how hard he works he will never be able to compete because of an unfair dealing of the genetic cards. Would it be wrong for him to score some HGH and put on a few inches? To me that seems fair.

  3. I would argue that, as there is a fuzzy distinction between performance using one’s natural talents and performance using drugs, there is a less-fuzzy one between both of those and performance using non-meat tech.

    The olympian, whatever he or she put into her body beforehand, enters the list naked except for such clothes as preserve modesty. When this is not possible (luge, pole vault, shooting, etc), every contestant has access to identical equipment.

    The problem isn’t simply whether this gives an advantage, the problem is that this guy’s legs will never be identical. Some artificial legs may be less effective, and eventually artificial legs will be invented that carry their wearer faster than a human can match. When you’re choosing your tech to match the calibration of a human’s body, that’s not competition, that’s controlling for everything but randomness.

  4. JB: would you ban people who have been breed for a specific sport? There is a family in california the father and grandfather had been professional baseball players. The father chose his wife because the family felt that she was the best genetic match to produce the third generation of professional player.

    Would that violate your concept of “competition”?

    I mean if we take the best player on the NBA and hook them up with the best player on the WNBA – would that person be disqualified as having an unfair advantage….?

  5. The carbon fiber legs deliver 80% energy return on the first stride, and also on the last.

    Biological legs deliver “up to” 240% energy return. Gee, that’s nice. I wonder what the number is for a guy whose muscles are burning so badly after sprinting for 90 yards that he’s going to collapse as soon as he crosses the line? Those carbon fiber legs don’t become saturated with lysergic acid, and produce a pain and weakness that the athlete has to fight through. That’s where the real heroism comes from. That’s what makes the Olympics worth watching.

    I’m all for the Supralympics. Seeing what the human mind can engineer, and putting their productions up against each other, is its own sort of competition. Like NASCAR. Or Battlebots.

  6. Prediction: Professional sports will not exist in their current state in 20 years. Either they will go bust, when people lose interest in rooting for the best chemist or best pharmacist, or it will morph into something combining the worst aspects of professional wrestling and reality tv.

  7. jb: You write: enters the list naked except for such clothes as preserve modesty.

    And I don’t really know, but haven’t there been improvements in things like running shoes which might affect competition? Perhaps we should just go back to the ancient Greek custom and have the athletes compete completely naked.
    Wouldn’t that be fairer?

  8. When this is not possible (luge, pole vault, shooting, etc), every contestant has access to identical equipment.

    I am not sure this is always true. I seem to recall reading about the US Swim team using some sort of special swimsuit that repelled water and reduced the drag of friction on the swimmer.

  9. The wheelchair marathoners typically finish an hour ahead of the runners in the Boston Marathon.

    I’ve got enormous respect for wheelchair marathon. It’s a grueling sport, and the upper body strength, skill, and courage required is amazing.

    But it’s not the same race as those the runners participate in. It’s a different sport.

  10. This whole concept of fairness strikes me as odd. The Olympics are a battle of the genetically gifted – and as we all know genetic gifts are not equitably distributed.

    If a 5’3″ 13yo dreams of being a b-ball player he knows that no matter how hard he works he will never be able to compete because of an unfair dealing of the genetic cards. Would it be wrong for him to score some HGH and put on a few inches? To me that seems fair.

    Fair, maybe, but there are easier ways. Computer games equalize most of the physical advantages.

  11. Only 80 percent of the energy absorbed in each stride while a natural leg returns up to 240 percent, providing much more spring.

    WTF? He’s comparing apple pie to orange marmalade.

    The artificial limb absorbs and returns energy. (I thought they were doing a little better than 80% actually) The human leg is a huge waster of energy, not only not returning energy, but expelling additional energy to absorb the stride. That’s why the right shoe can make a big difference. As well as the right track. Some indoor tracks are tuned to absorb and return.

    But saying that the human leg returns 240% each stride and is therefore superior, is just dumb. It just demonstrates how inefficient running is.

  12. I’ve got enormous respect for wheelchair marathon. It’s a grueling sport, and the upper body strength, skill, and courage required is amazing.

    But it’s not the same race as those the runners participate in. It’s a different sport.

    joe-

    This morning’s Washington Post has an article about a high school student who does wheelchair races. Since track includes team scores, she wants her scores in wheelchair racing to be included in her school’s team scores, even though the other students from her school are running. It went to court, and as I recall the court delivered a murky ruling.

    What do you think about that? I think that, as you said, comparing performances in different events is like adding apples and oranges. It also came up that she was frequently doing events with few or no competitors, so adding her scores (obtained without competitors) to the scores of teammates who had competitors might not be a fair way to score the team.

    What say you?

    Mind you, I’m all in favor of her being able to compete. I just think that adding wheelchair race scores to running scores would be like adding tennis scores to baseball scores.

  13. Perhaps we should just go back to the ancient Greek custom and have the athletes compete completely naked.

    Only for rhythmic gymnastics.

  14. thoreau,

    I say it should be treated like any other sport with a limited number of competitiors. The league needs to make up rules – either each meet will have a wheelchair sprint and mile (or whatever) included as an event, or it won’t. But I also think that that leagues would do well if they did include these events, to encourage the participating schools to include kids in wheelchairs in their athletic programs.

  15. Perhaps we should just go back to the ancient Greek custom and have the athletes compete completely naked.

    Only for the Winter Olympics.

  16. Sometimes I wish that I could be one of those skinny Asian street kids who break dances on the sidewalk… there are however certain physical limitations on what we can be and do.

  17. (Out of nowhere) I’d like to come back taller.

    (pause)

    And a ballet dancer.

    (pause)

    Better complexion, too.

  18. Those carbon fiber legs don’t become saturated with lysergic acid, and produce a pain and weakness that the athlete has to fight through.

    Wow. I hope Joe meant lactic acid, not lysergic acid. Although I think Bill Walton’s legs were saturated with lysergic acid during his Trailblazer days.

  19. There’s an entire organization dedicated to allowing athletes with disabilities compete.

    It’s called the Paralympics.

    I’d be curious to know what their response to this would be.

  20. “When this is not possible (luge, pole vault, shooting, etc), every contestant has access to identical equipment.”

    Question:

    Shooting competitions require a superhuman level of concentration.

    Under the Olympic committee rules, ADD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are considered performance-enhancing because they are stimulants.

    However, Stratera, a non-stimulant ADD treatment is not.

    Does taking Stratera give a shooting competitor an unfair advantage?

  21. You can get LASIK or contact lenses that can give you 20/10 vision. In a shooting competition, or baseball etc. would that be an unfair advantage?

    Plastic disks in your eye, carbon fiber legs….?

  22. mediageek,
    Last I heard about the paralympics, they were barring able bodied athletes from competing.

  23. “However, just as there is now a Paralympics for disabled athletes, there will one day be a Supralympics for enhanced athletes.”

    I just finished Liberation Biology, very thought-provoking. Here’s a question: Will the Supralympics be more popular?

  24. Why not just let disabled people use other technology like bicycles or cars or airplanes? There is absolutely no reason a runner should have to, you know, run.

  25. Chris,

    LOL. Good catch. Who was that dude who pitched the no-hitter? His legs must have been killing him!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.