Tale of two runners exposes flawed Olympic thinking

Written by Dr. Michael White, Published on July 19th, 2012
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Testosterone and prosthetics: the latest attempts to draw the line between legality and cheating in athletics offend both science and natural justice

EVERY time the summer Olympics comes around, so does the debate over where to draw the line between legal performance enhancement and cheating. This year it is especially relevant because of the presence at the London Olympics of two South African runners, Oscar Pistorius and Caster Semenya.

Pistorius is a double amputee who runs on prosthetic blades. A 2008 ruling found that they do not give him an unfair advantage and he has been cleared to run.

Semenya is an 800-metre runner whose victory at the 2009 world championships led to the reintroduction of a form of gender testing into athletics. Women with naturally high levels of male hormones can now be barred from competing (see "Rip up new Olympic sex test rules").

The International Olympic Committee has thus arrived at the absurd position where carbon-fibre prosthetics are acceptable but naturally high levels of testosterone in women are not.

Drawing the line is difficult and subjective. Decisions should be based on sound science but also appeal to natural justice. By these criteria the Pistorius decision is defensible, but the hormone one is far from being so.

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Tale of two runners exposes flawed Olympic thinking

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