- Man, I’m telling you, I can’t wait for gene manipulation to get here. I mean, just so we can move on to something new. You just can’t get away from it. Track and field has become so hopelessly twisted in its Gordian knot of lost honor and mistrust that it desperately needs a new focus. Fortunately, the whole pig-man thing is about to come snorting over the horizon leading toward track’s own version of the The Island of Doctor Moreau.
- You may have read that researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are partnering with a private biotechnology company to develop organs from genetically-modified pigs to help meet the demand for human transplants. As you might imagine, it’s just a matter of time before that research gets turned toward heart valve, liver function and enhanced hoof-feet hybrids. Next thing you know, Nike will sue for patent infringement (as Alberto will have already started a hybrid program at Portland HQ). Imagine the fun we’ll have with that in the coming years?
- But for now, just when we thought the issue of hyperandrogenism and Caster Semenya was behind us, the Court of Arbitration for sport (CAS) has dragged it back into the lab once again.
The strapping South African 800-meter runner cruised to a 1:56.46 win in the Rabat (Morocco) Diamond League meeting this past weekend, after tripling in the South African nationals a month ago, pulling off wins in the 400, 800, and 1500 meters all on the same day. And, as we were told by Ross Tucker in The Science of Sport blog, the 400 and 800 were scheduled just 50 minutes apart and the second lap of the her 1:58 800 dropped at sub-60 seconds! Jeezus, Caster! Could you at least make it look moderately difficult? In Rabat you were holding back so much, even off a 56-point first lap, that it was like watching the Italian kid try to be inconspicuous in the Irish schoolyard.
Last year the CAS ruled against the IAAF in the case of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand. In that ruling the court questioned the athletic advantage of naturally high levels of testosterone in women and therefore immediately suspended the practice of “hyperandrogenism regulation” by track and field’s governing body – which had previously forced Semenya off the track to lower her T-levels if she wanted to compete in women’s races. That ruling allowed Semenya to return to her indomitable 2009 World Championship form, high-T and all, and has her steaming toward Rio like a runaway freight train, one that promises more wreckage for the sport, with poor Caster strapped to the cow-catcher out front.
While the CAS ruling was only temporary, if the IAAF cannot satisfy the court as to the advantages of naturally occurring high testosterone in women in the two-year window given, and we end up with no limit to functional high-T levels, then we might as well forget about women’s racing altogether. Just have one category, human being, and let the chips fall where they may (until the whole pig-man thing shows up and has us questioning species categorization).
So, while hyperandrogenism is not a disability in any sense, and notwithstanding the CAS ruling, the Semenya eyeball test indicates that it does create a different level of ability when it is of the functional variety (not all naturally occurring high-T is functional to performance). This is where the Paralympic Games could be utilized as a potential model.
- The IPC has established 10 disability categories, including physical, visual, and intellectual impairment. There are eight different types of physical impairment alone, including impaired muscle power (spinal-cord injury, spina bifida or polio); impaired passive range of movement (one or more joints is reduced in a systematic way); loss of limb or limb deficiency, leg-length difference, short stature; Hypertonia; Ataxia, and Athetosis, which is generally characterized by unbalanced, involuntary movements and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture (e.g. cerebral palsy, choreoathetosis).
Thus the IPC had made a clear distinction between the different levels of ability and disability, making it possible for apples to race apples, oranges to compete against oranges.
So when we talk about Caster Semenya and the issue of hyperandrogenism, where her functional testosterone levels give her a clear advantage over her lower-T female competitors, then the IOC has to suck it up and either say, “sorry, through no fault of your own you’ve fallen between the cracks of these major categories”, or create a separate classification that would allow such athletes to compete on a level field against one another.
That would be the modern way, anyway, wouldn’t it? Everyone is special. So now we can all be Olympic champions, too. Just fill out that form that self-declares you as the singular, wonderful YOU that you are, charge appropriate fees, and everyone gets their own category and their own gold medal. No more controversy.
But coming back to reality for a second, you can’t run against people who are not similarly able (within a given range). Sure, it’s arbitrary at some point, but you didn’t go to school and self-declare what grade you were in. You didn’t self-correct your own tests. No. You took the tests and somebody else told you how well you did. Because that’s how life works!
So let’s develop some tests, create some categories, and get the pig pen in order. If it works for the Paralympics…