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World's First Cybernetic Athlete To Compete 199

Posted by timothy
from the no-respect-for-hearing-aids-or-pacemakers dept.
Tufriast writes "The world's first mechanically augmented athlete, Oscar Pistorius, will now compete against unaugmented peers on behalf of South Africa. He'll be running in the 400m and 4x400m relay at the World Athletics 2011 Championships. Pistorius, a double leg amputee, has had special leg blades crafted for him that allow him to compete against his peers. He's fought hard to prove they provide no advantage, and according to IAAF they do not. This should be a very interesting race to watch. His nickname: The Blade Runner."
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World's First Cybernetic Athlete To Compete

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  • Very very old news (Score:4, Informative)

    by hedleyroos (817147) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @07:43AM (#37031118)

    I'm a South African. He has been competing against able-bodied athletes for ages now. It's not news. A discussion on Slashdot as to whether the blades are an unfair advantage over other athletes will be much more interesting.

    • by rcasha2 (1157863)
      Even if it is determined on this occasion that they do not, every minor modification or newer and better model of the blades will reignite the debate: "Do they now constitute an advantage?" This risks changing the sport into a competition of who has the best technology.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by delinear (991444)
        Indeed, although I wonder why that's so. If Nike or Adidas create a new sports shoe that gives a competitive advantage, and only certain athletes have access to it, do the sports bodies get their panties in a twist? The whole idea of the Olympics in particular (where he was prevented from running) is that it's meant to bring people together - here's someone who is trying to take a pretty crappy hand life's dealt them and turn it into a positive.
        • That was some of the same questions that were asked when speed skaters started using the clap skates in the Winter Olympics. The problem then wasn't so much exclusivity as anyone could use them; some teams had more experience using them than others. These days it seems everyone uses them now.
        • by hedwards (940851)

          Running shoes don't represent an advantage of any sort. Except possibly for really short races. When it comes to things like the marathon there's a much better case that shoes are a disadvantage as they add mass that needs to be carried, absorb energy that could be used to spring forward and generally screw with the mechanics.

          And unlike a prosthesis they're completely optional. Folks from time to time do run marathons in their bare feet.

      • by Swampash (1131503)

        Well the blades are lighter than legs, consume no bodily resources, require no "plumbing" or "wiring", produce no waste products, feel no pain, and are more efficient than flesh and bone in that more energy is converted into forward motion by them than by organic legs.

        I'm waiting for the first athlete to have organic legs amputated and replaced with carbon fibre blades because they're now allowed. That will be awesome.

    • All the talk about his augmented legs, and not one photo in that article of said legs. That's WAY too PC when the augmentations themselves are the story.

  • by Assmasher (456699) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @07:47AM (#37031140) Journal

    ...runners with natural ankles and feet.

    I admire the guy's tenacity (double amputee at 11 months and still played rugby growing up) but I recall seeing him competing a few years ago in Europe (some track meet in Rome iirc) and he was no where near the fitness level of the other atheletes and yet was qualifying for heats (in other words - he was 'heavy' at the time.)

    Now unless this is an unfortunate coincidence between the potentially fastest human ever having his legs amputated as a baby, it is an unfair advantage. The IAAF, contrary to the OP's assertion, claim that it provides him a clear and obvious advantage mechanically and say they have the data to back it up...

  • by s31523 (926314) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @07:51AM (#37031156)
    If he wins a lot then he will be declared as having an unfair advantage, and if he loses (or just average) he will be declared as having no advantage.
    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      Not really. The claim is that he is currently losing not because he doesn't have an advantage, but because he's simply not in as good of a shape as other runners. This is at least partially true, there are known cases of him qualifying through some tourneys when being clearly out of shape (not in the pre-competition training process, some trainers call the state "heavy" I believe). Even world's best athletes would have problems qualifying while in this state.

  • A strange game... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @07:52AM (#37031166) Journal
    I've never understood the nigh-jesuitical levels of logic chopping(with not infrequent descent into mere hand-waving) that go on surrounding "fair" and "unfair" advantages in high level sports.

    You've got a tiny number of heavily selected freaks of nature, endowed by various quirks of heredity with highly atypical phenotypes, augmented by years or decades of carefully designed training, controlled diet, etc. whose handlers cry out every time somebody has the temerity to shoot a little synthetic testosterone instead of just expressing freakish amounts of it naturally "Oh, no! We have to set a good example for the kids! Professional athletes are just regular folks who get a good night's rest and eat their wheaties!". Similar things come up with, say, hemoglobin concentrations: Does your blood contain more iron than most steel alloys because your ancestors were the spacesuit people who live at 50,000 feet above sea level? No problem, come right in! Does your blood contain more iron than most steel alloys because your doctor has been extracting and re-injecting it? Banhammer!
    • by Ambvai (1106941)

      An excellent example of a somewhat-recent controversial athlete: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caster_Semenya [wikipedia.org]

      She's a South African runner who, due to a variety of factors but probably her speed and appearance, had her sex called into question. I remember talking to a few friends of mine in the medical field about her at the time and one of the more interesting theories was that she may be sexually male but with a developmental disorder that causes superficially female genitalia to develop.

    • by Zebedeu (739988)

      The point is that if you allow "supplements", AKA "doping", then the only way to compete will be for all athletes to start injecting.

      For instance, every athlete is allowed to take sugar for that extra energy boost.
      That's a supplement with (almost) no side effects. Anything stronger than that gets banned, and rightly so IMHO.

    • Re:A strange game... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by itsdapead (734413) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @09:24AM (#37031896)

      I've never understood the nigh-jesuitical levels of logic chopping(with not infrequent descent into mere hand-waving) that go on surrounding "fair" and "unfair" advantages in high level sports.

      The underlying problem is the idea of "high level sports", "professional athletes", massive sponsorship deals and huge capital pork projects to host athletics events. If it was just a case of the misty-eyed wholesome self-improvement aspect of sport for sport's sake then it would be petty to argue about such things and there would be less incentive to cheat. As it is, though, these are professionals (highly paid in some cases) trying to defend their livelihood against "unfair competition".

      "Oh, no! We have to set a good example for the kids! Professional athletes are just regular folks who get a good night's rest and eat their wheaties!".

      Of course there's nothing particularly natural about regular folks who eat their wheaties (or anything else that doesn't grow on trees in the Rift Valley), had their childhood diseases cured and can expect to live 40 years beyond the MTBF of the original homo sapiens. Should we stop worrying and embrace the PharmaLympics, and treat anybody who wrecks their health with performance-enhancing drugs the same way we treat those of us who have wrecked our health by sitting behind a desk all day and living on pizza and coffee for the sake of our career?

      That'd be Wheaties(tm) - fortified with iron and vitamins, official breakfast cereal of the BigSportsTornament(r)(tm)(c) by the way.

    • by EnsilZah (575600)

      Why can't a rook move diagonally?
      Why is moving through water using your arms and legs one sport while using a paddle and a vessel made out of fiberglass as intermediaries a different sport?
      Personally I'm not really interested in spectator sports, but it seems to me that it's about traditions, superstitions, tribalism and generally pretty arbitrary sets of rules that combine to create enough challenge and drama for enough people to care about.
      I imagine Olympic sports have a long running (pun not intended) tr

      • I'm perfectly fine with games having arbitrary rules designed to make them amusing. I just don't understand why people get so emotionally involved with the 'natural'-ness of the ones for sports, while they are just fine with any old variation of other sorts of games, so long as they are agreed upon.

        People get kicked out of chess tournaments for breaking the rules and using AI assists; people get hauled in front of Congress for using steroids in baseball...
    • by Krater76 (810350)
      We saw this in the last Olympics with swimmers. Everyone was wearing those shark-skin body suits allowing them to shatter world records. Didn't have a body suit? You were going to be about 3% slower than the guy who does not because he's better, because he's sponsored by a company that built something to give you an unfair advantage. 3% is 1.5 seconds in a 50 second race, in a sport where tenths of a second decide gold/silver/bronze.

      Michael Phelps was sponsored by Nike but didn't even wear their body
  • I will ruin the basis of athletics where the best human (on the day) wins. If he was to win there will always be the debate on whether or not is its an advantage.

    It also raises the financial entry barrier instead of needing to a find a sponsor for maybe upto $10000 for shoes (they will find you if your any good). It will bring in discussion of a tech race or whether improvements on the current blades are advantage or not.

    This is why we have the disabled Olympics for people with various augmentations can com

    • by amn108 (1231606)

      You're being naive. First of all he is human, so technically if he bests other humans, then he is by definition "best human". But you are probably implying "best physically unaugmented human", which probably excludes doping too, etc. But you have to look at it this way: except doping and attaching carbon-fiber prosthetic to yourself, there's a myriad of ways to augment yourself and still get qualified for Olympics. Drinking funny drinks, eating funny food which contain numerous "good" doping drugs that the

      • by nzac (1822298)

        Bottomline: fair fight is actually very boring thing in the long run, it tastes like water.

        Most Olympic sports are dead boring but we only watch them once every for years. No one watches athletics for entertainment.

        I think the line is generally drawn where the athlete is being harmed. In my opinion the main reason performance enchanting drugs are illegal is people will be forced to permanent harm them selves or risk their lives to compete. Seriously I'm sure you can find some would take the drugs to peak for four years and then die at the end (bloody shit sport to watch or support). If that

        • by amn108 (1231606)

          > No one watches athletics for entertainment.

          Really? Are you sure? Absolutely positively certain without doubt?

          > Bolt still beats Gay.

          To a degree - yes, I haven't said the good old human factor doesn't apply. But the two probably are on different diets etc, which make much difference inside their bodies and minds, as their bodies approach "max Q", so to speak. It's not the biggest factor, but especially in sports, the decisive factor doesn't have to be the biggest one, it just needs to make all the di

  • by LibRT (1966204) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @08:15AM (#37031300)
    This reminds me of an assignment I was given in high school English class: the book we were to study that year was Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms". Prior to starting the book, the teacher asked that we write an essay outlining our expectations of the book, based solely on the title. Well, I had no idea what the hell the book would be about - all I could come up with was a future in which superior, articficial limbs became widely available, and once a person's growth stopped, they'd have their natural limbs hacked off and replaced with the better artificial limbs in a ceremony called, "A Farewell to Arms!" The teacher gave me an "A+", but looked at me funny the rest of the year...
  • Me too! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by davidbrit2 (775091) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @08:18AM (#37031316) Homepage
    I will be competing in the 400m and 4x400m relay using my specially crafted Chevy Cavalier. It's a manual transmission, so the engine computer won't give me an unfair advantage.
  • Oblig... (Score:4, Funny)

    by twistedsymphony (956982) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @08:18AM (#37031320) Homepage
    I for one welcome our new cybernetic..... peers?
  • Just look to Lance Armstrong. Testicular cancer.... has to take testosterone to supplement. He keeps winning "everything" and claims no advantage over people who aren't taking testosterone.

    The only thing that could break this cycle and prove there is no advantage would be for him to lose.

  • The 'Science of Sport' blog wrote about this in 2009 : http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009/11/oscar-pistorius-gets-10-second.html [sportsscientists.com] Back then, two scientists hired to look at the case found that the artificial limbs would take 10 or more seconds off his 400 meter time. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-11/smu-opa111709.php [eurekalert.org]
  • Screw the regular olympics. I want to see a games where nothing is off limits. If you want to have your legs replaced with giant springs, go right ahead. And you could save a bit of weight by having your skull lightened or replaced with a carbon fibre shell. The brain requires quite a bit of energy to run... i'm sure there are bits that could be removed that are surplus to requirements for an elite athlete.

    One heart? I'm sure more blood could be pumped with two hearts, and maybe an extra lung to oxygenate t

    • by mvar (1386987)
      Dunno if you're just kidding, but i'd like to see the collapse of all this hypocrisy around steroids. Last 20 or so years have been a race between the pharmaceutical companies and IAAF's doctors, and the latter will always be 2 steps behind the former. Its no secret, everybody and his grandma is on steroids if he's willing to compete at World-class level so why all the fuss around drugs? just let the athletes choose themselves if they want smaller dicks and lots of medals. So bring on the cyborg olympics!
    • by amorsen (7485)

      You're pretty much describing Formula 1 in the 80's. Calling it "running" seems to be a bit of a stretch though.

    • One heart? I'm sure more blood could be pumped with two hearts, and maybe an extra lung to oxygenate that blood.

      Ever since I've seen a story about NASA designing an artificial heart based on the turbines of the Space Shuttle, almost a decade ago, I've wondered about what it would be like to have such a heart (no pulse to begin with, just a steady flow), and when having to exert myself, such as by running to catch the bus, turn it up into high gear until the blades start to cavitate.

      Of course, this might go towards explaining how The Doctor does all the things he does, like enduring high-power electric shocks...

  • If other athletes man up and instead of taking steroids start having their legs amputated then we'll know there's an advantage.

  • Cybernetics [wikipedia.org] is a very particular term whose true meaning is far removed from its popular meaning. The technical meaning [wikipedia.org] of the term describes a system in terms of its sensors, feedback mechanisms, the interaction of autonomous actors, failure modes in complex systems, etc. The popular meaning is simply anything vaguely having to do with robotics and humans, and generally conflated with cyborg [wikipedia.org]. By either meaning of the term, though, I don't think it really applies in this case.

    Pistorius' running prosth
  • Athletes are under enormous amounts of pressure to win. For the Olympics, this is doubly true. Many have sacrificed a normal life for that single shot at winning a gold medal. There's also the unspoken carrot dangling in front of them: "Win a medal, get rich from endorsement contracts."

    Is it any wonder that they start taking all sorts of performance-enhancing drugs, some with serious life-long consequences, just for that one chance at winning?

    Now let's say that allowing artificial limbs into competition

  • I don't think I'm alone in that I want to see the absolute limits of what a human can do. I don't really care about "cheating" (using unconventional or banned methods of gaining an advantage) as I want to see what's possible. The (few) undoped high class sportsmen are going to ruin their bodies as well, this kind of force just does that to the body eventually, but why not open up the regulations? Make an "ultimate" category so that people can stop pretending to not dope. I don't know of any sport without do

    • by amorsen (7485)

      Why not allow wheels then? 100m should easily be possible in 2s, and much faster if you get rid of the useless "runner".

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      How about I glue myself to a kowasaki ninja and enter a foot race with a motorcycle augmentation?
  • No advantage? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cmay (687134) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @09:19AM (#37031858) Homepage
    Something tells me he would be considerably slower without them.
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @09:37AM (#37032022)

    Springs are not legs. Hence, he should not compete against athletes with legs.

    There should be another class for athletes like him.

    Perhaps also an open class, that allows any enhancements once can think of: drugs, surgery, doping, springs... game on.

  • When are we just going to get it over with and create 'unlimited' class competitions for athletics? Augmented or replaced limbs, oxygen doping, performance enhancing drugs, go nuts. Professionals do as much as they can get away with while they can get away with it anyway, let's regulate and expand it.

    • by bigdavex (155746)

      When are we just going to get it over with and create 'unlimited' class competitions for athletics? Augmented or replaced limbs, oxygen doping, performance enhancing drugs, go nuts.

      We already have that. It's called war.

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