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Does prosthetics give Olympic competitors an unfair advantage?

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Oscar Pistorius, the 400 metres world record holder will be competing in the Olympics this year, in light of his prosthetics used for both legs. He was born without fibulas in his legs which are the outer, smaller bones between the knee and ankles.

It has been questioned whether it is an unfair advantage. I think it is not.

It can be argued the use of prosthetic legs can give an unfair advantage, allowing Pistorius to run faster with less susceptibility to injury. On the contrary, The Guardian revealed Paralympians sustain nine injuries per 1,000 hours of training in contrast to six for non-amputee sprinters over the same time.

Prosthetics does not always mean faster because there are other elements to take into account. For example, Pistorius has to understand how to function alongside his prosthetics which act as an unnatural extension. Non-amputee sprinters have the advantage of building up their leg muscles, understanding how they work and how to use them to their best advantage.

Pistorius’s prosthetics are made of carbon-fibre which has been used for the last 20 years. The idea his artificial legs can have an unfair advantage seem unjust; he is a recipient of technology – not advanced, simply modern technology. If he is not allowed to compete, it sends a message that people with serious injuries and prosthetic limbs are not welcome to compete.

For individuals who have had to suffer a horrific incident or were unfortunate enough to be born without access to their limbs, competing in the Olympics or Paralympics would be their dream. Over the years, this will become a bigger problem when participants gain more advanced prosthetics because the advantage would be clear.

Pistorius has proved he is talented as a Paralympic due to his record best of 45.07 seconds in the 400m in Lignano, 2011. He competed with other Paralympians who have the same problems, on the same level. However, has it ever been considered he may be disadvantaged in comparison to his fully able-bodied Olympic competitors?

As one of the only double amputees competing, he has been criticised for his prosthetics, but not for his skill. Instead of criticising him, we should support him for being courageous enough to compete in the Olympics – for aiming for more challenging pastures. Otherwise, we risk alienating a talented man who wants a chance to prove his talent, which is not solely attributed to his prosthetics.

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