BEFORE WE TALK ABOUT THE DEBATE; before we analyze energy cost and stride frequency and calculate net performance advantages; before we discuss ruling bodies, law firms, arbitration hearings, and scientific methods; before we get into advances in high-tech injection-molded prostheses or compare injury rates among Paralympic athletes and their able-bodied counterparts; before we hear from critics who say carbon-fiber pegs are an “unfair advantage”; and before we look at the photo on the opposite page and linger on those two words—before, in other words, we deal entirely in hypotheticals and complex ethical dilemmas—let us first take a moment to shut out all the noise and consider an event that actually happened, even if we all failed to appreciate its significance amid nonstop coverage of Hurricane Irene.
In August, Oscar Pistorius, a 24-year-old South African whose nonfunctioning lower legs were severed below the knee by doctors when he was 11 months old, raced in the 400 at the Track and Field World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. He not only competed, but he beat 22 of the fastest runners on the planet and reached the semifinals. Pistorius also ran the first leg of the 4x400 relay, helping South Africa advance to the finals. Assuming he runs another qualifying time of 45.25 seconds, he’ll be competing at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.
“When I was small,” Pistorius has said, “I’d ask my mother why I didn’t have any legs. And she’d say, ‘You do. In the morning, your brother puts on his shoes and you put on your legs. There’s no difference.’”
No difference! It was a perfectly understandable lie told by a parent facing unthinkable circumstances. But here’s the most amazing part: she was right. And maybe if we could all block out the distractions swirling around Pistorius, we could be reminded again of sport’s infinite ability to blow our minds.