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Carbon Feet, Steel Mind

Red Bulletin September 2011 Sprinter Oscar Pistorius Red Bulletin Magazine

They look strange, but up close, they sound even stranger. We’re trackside at the University of Pretoria’s training facility, and Oscar Pistorius is hurtling around the tartan oval. His feet make a sharp, loud thwack with every stride -- a bit like someone is hitting a hundred baseballs a minute.

These are not normal feet, of course. They’re not flesh and blood. Maybe they’re prosthetics… maybe they’re proto-cyborgian (or maybe that’s not even a word yet). Whatever they are, they’re famous -- or infamous, depending which side of the controversy you’re on. The problem with Pistorius is that he’s tough to categorize. Plus, he has an annoying habit of not doing what people tell or expect him to do.

Being born without fibulae in both legs meant he never had the mechanics of walking. His parents, Henke and Sheila Pistorius, were consequently faced with the tough but inevitable decision of voluntary amputation when Oscar was 11 months old. His only chance of walking would be with his stumps stuffed into prosthetic lower limbs.

What if these prosthetics Pistorius was wearing actually gave him a competitive advantage?

And with that, the prescriptive instructions as to what he could and couldn’t do started. He’s ignored most of them -- especially the one about not being able to run in able-bodied races.

At first, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) allowed him to participate in their able-bodied events, but then appeared to panic when they realized this disabled athlete could actually do the unthinkable and win a “real” race. Too late, the IAAF found themselves with an open can of worms in one hand and a can opener in the other.

What if these prosthetics Pistorius was wearing actually gave him a competitive advantage? I mean, they didn’t even pretend to look anything like legs and feet. But what if these curved carbon-fiber things actually propelled him faster than normal bones, tendons, and muscles could? This was as bad as performance-enhancing drugs -- just without the drugs.

Check out the September issue of Red Bulletin magazine for more of the article. To see it all, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.

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