“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster…”
Oscar Goldman, Director of the Government Project
This was the introduction to the ‘70s show The Six Million Dollar Man where the story line is Steve Austin, a test pilot for the U.S. Government, has crashed and the government takes out all the stops to save him.
Not only do they save him but they modify him to super human abilities by replacing the damaged body with bionics. Not to be confused with the Terminator cyborg a decade later, Steve Austin was a man with some of this limbs and organs replaced with manmade mechanical components. For those of us of that vintage, the sound track for when he used his bionic power is indelible in our mind’s ear.
Come full circle to the 2012 Olympics in the U.K. where Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee below the knee was allowed to compete with the field of runners. This was not without controversy as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had banned any device that offered a mechanical advantage from competition years earlier. This was overturned in 2008 whereas the specific limbs (Cheetah Flex Foot manufactured by Finnish company Össur) were determined to be advantage neutral, setting the stage for Oscar’s climb to the Olympics in 2012.
The controversy continued through the entire Olympics as claims were made that the device provides a mechanical or unfair advantage over pedestrian runners. Countless opinions, accusations and commentaries have ensued on the topic, which I feel Oscar handled with grace.
There is no easy answer to the question of what constitutes “advantage” in the world of sporting especially with the technology available today. Not a day passes without word of athletes being caught with performance enhancing drugs or blood doping to get them to the next level.
In the ‘70s Steve Austin was a creation of Harve Bennet Productions and Universal Studios, but today “we have the technology” to modify the human body in ways to help people with disabilities. It creates a conundrum in that the technology that can assist the disabled may be abused in the future.
Will we see a time where athletes have to have an X-ray to determine if they have bionic components? If a modern day Steve Austin, half man & half machine, vied for a place in the Olympics today would it be considered fair to the other athletes? Is this in the spirit of the original Olympic Games?
These questions and more will become part of the dialogue for future Olympics…