Sunday, August 12, 2012

London 2012: Choreo-Gasm-A-Delic

I'm watching the closing ceremonies and I feel lie puking.  I've never-never-never been one for glossy, feel-good, highly choreographed entertainment.  The opening and closing ceremonies is always so full of this cheerful atmosphere that it becomes sickening to the cynical like me.

The London opening and closing ceremonies were more enjoyable than most, because of the focus on the music.  A lot of my favourite classic rock artists were highlighted in the mish-mash of music and dance.  Much of the music, however, is actually rather dark - unbecoming an extatic event like the Olympics.  No matter, they just choreograph the whole thing to with a few skipping, jumping dancers and everyobody feels ok.  The Who provided a brief medly for the finaly, graciously cutting out the chorus of "teenage wasteland" from Baba O'Reilly.  We're not introducing the image of drugged out mods on this scene featuring the world's top athletes.  But acts such as Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney (too hippy) and Muse(too dark and edgy) don't really fit the scene either.

Nevermind.  This is the Olympics and everything (I mean EVERYTHING) is wonderful(especially if it is British).  Criticism not welcome.  Everybody smile and be happy.

It would be fine if this lack of criticism was only extended to the ceremonies.  Britain gets to showcase the best their culture has to offer, past and present.  However, the Olympic spirit is also taking this one step further into the realm of the athletics.

Nobody seems to be asking questions about mechanically enhanced athletes.  I don't mean to belittle the feat of a double amputee running as the fastest athletes in the world.  I think it's a great achievement of engineering and personal will.  In a word, it is awesome.  But, you cannot tell me that this Oscar Pistorius is participating in the same sport as the other runners in this race.

Read one reporter's fauning op-ed about the heart of this athlete.

The Wikipedia article mentions the struggle he endured to be approved.
After a two-day hearing, on 16 May 2008 the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Pistorius's appeal and the IAAF council decision was revoked with immediate effect. The CAS panel unanimously determined that Dr. Brüggemann tested Pistorius's biomechanics only at full-speed when he was running in a straight line (unlike a real 400-metre race); that the report did not consider the disadvantages that Pistorius suffers at the start and acceleration phases of the race; and that overall there was no evidence that he had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.
So, the test to prove whether an advantage was gained was pushed aside because it did not take into account certain disadvantages.  Here is the biggest question that nobody wants to ask.  What will happen when those disadvantages are eliminated through developments in the technology?  If Pistorius is given an advantage at full speed and can start just as well as a regular runner, would the entire apparatus not be considered advantageous?  Human ingenuity will eventually overcome all of the short comings and allow amputees to run faster than anyone else; this is absolutely inevitable and likely happening sooner than later - 2016 perhaps?
Here, then, we are brought to a cross-roads.  Either, ban all limb replacement devices and mechanical assistance in running sports or regulate them to provide no apparent advantage.  It is no easy task to determine some level of advantage gained by replacement legs.  Considering that without any mechanical apparatus, he would not be able to run at all, any apparatus is an advantage.

But ignoring that fact, as the IAAF seems to do, officials would have to determine some standard by which any apparatus could be judged and accepted.  The mechanical advantage would have to be similar to the human body and engineers would basically have to calibrate it as such.  The question would be, to what kind of human should it be calibrated.  Usain Bolt is the worlds fastest human.  Would it be fair, then, to provide a leg that provides as much energy return as a Usain Bolt leg?

This is where it gets morally sticky.  Amputees would be given Usain Bolt legs (or whatever standard is decided upon), while everyone else would get the legs that they're born with.  In that context, would not mechanical legs be considered an unfair advantage?  If you take 100 amputee athletes, you could simply customize a leg for each one and have half of them running the 100m in 10 seconds, albeit with hard training.  You could random pick 100 able bodied athletes and no mater how hard they trained, you'd be lucky to find one to run near 10 seconds.  Again, I can't deny Pistorius heart and desire, but it is simply unfathomable, that he his anything more than a good athlete.  Good is fine, but the competition at the Olympics MUST be elite.  If you can take a good athlete and attach an apparatus to his body and make his run about as fast as elite athletes it is called cheating.  Why can we allow this if we are so upset at the mere allegation of drug enhanced performance?

How long before the first person has his legs replaced on purpose to allow for faster replacement legs to be attached?  How long before it is a common practice, like Tommy John's surgery is for baseball pitchers?

One day Usaine Bolt's records will be broken. If it is by a man who has his legs amputated and is wearing similar devices, will people be able to honestly look him in the eye and that it is the same as what he did?  Or, will our Very-Nice People in charge of the Olympics with their feel-good politics and inability to speak truth when it might hurt go into overdrive as we gush for the all-wonderful Olympic Dream?

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