In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) defined Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter with double transtibial amputations, as both disabled and superabled in the course of his attempt to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. This paper examines the grounds for and effects of the constructed definitions of "disabled," "abled," "superabled," and "normal" through explication of the documents and pronouncements of the IAAF, as well as those in Pistorius' appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. While the explication demonstrates the power of definition in Pistorius' case, this paper argues for greater specificity and malleability in definition construction in relation to bodies and technologies/prosthetics.


While attempting to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter, was barred from competition because of his prosthetic legs, which were presumed to give him an unfair advantage—to make him "superabled." Pistorius has double transtibial amputations; upon appearance, the general public would most likely categorize him as "disabled." In an interview from 2005, Pistorius described himself as follows: "I'm not disabled, I just don't have any legs" (Philip).

Arguments and theories about what defines a person as "abled" or "disabled" are certainly not new, and creating such (de)constructions could perhaps be identified as the fundamental purpose of Disability Studies. The shifting of labels used to describe Pistorius' status of "ability" actually makes good sense in the frame of Disability Studies, suggesting the shifting nature of (dis)ability, based on different social constructions and situations. However, the question of who (or what) determines and applies these definitions, and how the labels themselves are constructed, are, in this case, quite curious, and demand thorough consideration. In this article, I query the constructions of Pistorius' (dis/super)abled identity by explicating the documents and pronouncements of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Pistorius' case. I approach this from the lens of Foucault's genealogical method, examining the discourses and practices of the IAAF through a close textual analysis of their documents. I begin by considering more fully what is at stake in the act of defining, then providing some background and contextualization for the IAAF and Pistorius. From there, I turn to a specific analysis of the elements of the case, revealing the tensions of definitions and constructions at play. Finally, I consider how, in the realm of the Olympics—a place where issues of bodies and abilities are paramount—the construction of Pistorius by the IAAF sets a precedent for interpreting not only the bodies of official athletes, but all bodies both "abled" and "prosthetized" in particular ways.

Invisible Abilities

Defining works to determine what something is and, perhaps more importantly, what something is not. In theory, it creates a common ground from which to understand and organize our world, particularly through language—through labels. Defining, however, is not a benign act. The act of defining creates and employs power, particularly when what is being defined is one's body. How one is defined, and, perhaps more importantly, who defines one, has implications for individual identity, group identity, politics, health care, economics, ethics, and human rights. These issues of definition and identity underlie the tensions between the medical and social models of disability, for example.

In the medical model, the disabled body (and person) is defined as abnormal, as lacking, but how this comes to pass requires unpacking. Canguilhem explores the meaning and construction of "normal" in biology and medicine, demonstrating how "normal" works in two significant and interrelated ways. On one hand, "normal" operates as a statistical representation of an average or standard. It is descriptive, reflecting an accounting of characteristics (blood pressure, heart rate, height). On the other hand (though also holding the first), "normal" is normative, defined by Canguilhem as "every judgment which evaluates or qualifies a fact in relation to a norm….Normative, in the fullest sense of the word, is that which establishes norms" (126-127). Normal, then, entwines both an identification (a defining) and a process of shaping (a judgment) evident in biology and medicine. This definition of "normal," then, seems relatively benign and absolute. Of course, in practice, it is neither.

Foucault problematizes the construction of norms through his understanding of power. Norms are not simply foisted upon one group by another (through what he calls traditional power), but also emerge through interrelationships of anatamo- and bio-power, through self-imposed disciplining, or modern power (I explore this process later). In these deployments of power, though, the constructions of norms become invisible as normalcy is internalized by individuals and society. To be normal is to be unremarkable; to be abnormal is to be noticeable, undisciplined, to be statistically and morally wrong. "Normal" comes to be defined in the negative: by what it is not. Rosemarie Garland Thomson traces this practice of norm-defining back to Aristotle:

…Aristotle initiates the discursive practice of marking what is deemed aberrant while concealing what is privileged behind an assertion of normalcy. …without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic … without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social, and economic arrangements would collapse. (20)

We see in this analysis the act of defining as one where power is employed—"normalcy" is determined by those who have power—and where power is created—defining "normalcy" gives (more) power to those who are not aberrant (and by default, disempowers those who are).

Returning to the tensions of medical and social models of disability, we can see further how this definitional power plays out in complex ways. When one is labeled disabled (i.e., "abnormal") by the medical model, the power and authority to define both the term and the person as "disabled" lies with the institution. The person is disempowered, yet also held responsible for her or his "condition" (as the "aberration" is identified in the individual). The social model is a means of pushing back against the power of the medical institution, of the disability community reclaiming power by deconstructing and redefining the terms. Here, "disabled" operates as a verb more than an adjective: one is disabled by the (physical, social, etc.) construction of society.

In Pistorius' case, we see a similar interplay of power: an institution defining (and disempowering) an individual, and the individual pushing back against that deployment of power. However, the terms (defined as both "words" and "conditions") here are a bit different. What is at stake is the invisible ground: the undefined definition of "abled." Pistorius' self-defining pits him against not only the Olympic institution, but potentially the disabled community as well. Here, the implications of how one is defined, and who defines one, extend beyond limits of one sprinter and a few competitions. Let's move, then, to some background on the IAAF and the story of Pistorius.

"…a spirit of fair play and equality"

The IAAF formed in 1912 with the purpose of bringing together various national athletics federations from around the world and "standardiz[ing] technical equipment and world records" ("History"). Nearly a hundred years later, current IAAF President Lamine Diack sees the influence of the organization stretching even beyond that of athletes and fans, and asserts, "our efforts will benefit millions of youngsters around the world and encourage them to live healthier lives and compete in a true spirit of fair play and equality." The early organizational goal of "standardization," then, can also be read as one of "fairness," with the IAAF's mission serving as an attempt to create and enforce an equal playing field not only for competing athletes, but also for the world at large—especially children.

However, maintaining that "true spirit of fair play and equality" has become more complicated. On their website, the IAAF identifies two particular changes that, in the past ten years, have significantly impacted athletes and competition: first, the "development of applied sports sciences, improved equipment and new training and competition techniques;" second, the increased use of performance enhancing drugs that are "jeopardising the moral fabric of sport as well as the health and lives of young people." Interestingly, the IAAF does not suggest a relationship between these changes, though the second could be seen to logically emerge from the first.1 As we gain knowledge in the science of sports, we gain understanding in how to act on the body, to train it for better performance, to measure inputs and outputs, successes and failures. This recalls and extends Canguilhem's constructions of biological/medical norms, as well as Foucauldian anatomo-politics, moving beyond training the body through disciplined movement to building the body through manipulation and control of the smallest biological and chemical bases. The development and use of performance enhancing drugs emerge from this knowledge as well—as do assistive technologies such as prosthetics (and I will return to this point a bit later). Certainly, it is reasonable for the IAAF to set rules and boundaries for fair competition, but the lines between technologies that enhance performance and "new training and competition techniques" is perhaps not as distinct as they suggest. Grounding this distinction in morality and again noting the impact on "young people" further polarizes the grounds: one is defined either as a healthy, fair, morally-upright athlete, or as a cheating, morally-bereft athlete. Regardless, one is a representative beyond the arena of sports, serving as an example—a norming representation—for the rest of the world. With these frames in mind, then, I will turn to Oscar Pistorius.

The Blade Runner

A bit of history helps situate Pistorius in relation to the IAAF, as well as in his relationship with prosthetics. Pistorius was born in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa on 22 November 1986 with bilateral fibular hemimelia, a congenital condition wherein his body developed only two toes on each foot, but not fibulas (shin bones) or ankles (Draper). Presentation of this condition varies, as does treatment; depending on the extremity of the condition, bone lengthening and other extensive surgical procedures can be used to preserve much of the biological body and restore relative amounts of function to the legs. After consulting numerous doctors, it was determined that in Pistorius' case, "relative" would have been quite limited, and he likely would have needed a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His parents then made the difficult choice to have his legs amputated between his knees and ankles when he was eleven months old (McHugh).

Pistorius was walking on prosthetic legs within six months (not much beyond the average age when kids begin to walk). From an early age, he proved to be quite physically adept and athletically talented. By high school, he had competed in water polo, state tennis, Olympic club wrestling, and rugby (Davies). He began running in January 2004 as part of a rehabilitation plan from a rugby-incurred knee injury, and quickly garnered great success; in sprinting, he hit his stride (so to speak). In September 2004, at 18 years old, he won two medals in the Athens Paralympics—bronze for the 100m, gold for the 200m. He set the disability sports world record for the 100m on 4 April 2007 at the Nedbank Championships for the Physically Disabled; the next day, at the same event, he made a personal best time and set the world record for the 200m. In 2004, Pistorius also began competing in South Africa in able-bodied events sanctioned by the IAAF; in other words, at this point, he was an eligible athlete for all IAAF competitions, including the then forthcoming Beijing Olympics. Pistorius continued to thrive in these events, earning sixth place in the 2005 South African Open Championships and silver in the 2007 Senior South African National Championships ("Oscar Pistorius"). As a result of such successes, Pistorius received invitations to participate in other international able-bodied competition. Clearly a gifted sprinter, his performance soon came under scrutiny.

To Run or Not To Run: That was the Question

On 26 March 2007, the IAAF Council introduced a new amendment to their rule clarifying the difference between athletes receiving assistance or an unfair advantage (IAAF Rule 144.2).2 The rule first noted what would not be considered assistance (i.e., what the athletes are allowed), and then continued to define what would be assistance (i.e., what the athletes are not allowed). Amendment "e" reads as follows, prohibiting:

use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device. (IAAF 100)

This extraordinarily vague statement was used almost immediately to challenge Pistorius' eligibility.3 I will return to address the language of this rule shortly, but must first show how the IAAF mounted their challenge.

That July, with his willing participation, the IAAF embarked on an examination of Pistorius' sprinting in an attempt to determine whether or not his "Cheetah" prosthetics created a technologically-based advantage, as (vaguely) defined by their new amendment. This began with him running a specially-planned 400m race against able-bodied sprinters at the July 2007 Golden Gala event in Rome; the race was videotaped with high-definition cameras so that the IAAF could evaluate Pistorius' performance against the "normal" sprinters (though their normalcy was essentially undefined and assumed). Able-bodied runners tend to be quickest in the first two quarters of the race, and then slow down in the last two. Video analysis revealed Pistorius' race to be an inversion of this: he was faster than able-bodied runners in the end of the race, but slower off the starting blocks and during early acceleration. The results of this analysis, then, proved inconclusive: while there was a difference, no clear advantage could be determined.

The IAAF deemed further investigation necessary and commissioned a biomechanical study to be performed by Professor Peter Brüggemann at the Institute of Biomechanics and Orthopaedics at the German Sport University in Cologne. Pistorius agreed to this further testing in November 2007, after protocol for the exam was established between the IAAF and Brüggemann. Brüggemann and colleagues issued "The Cologne Report" that December, reporting the following conclusions:

In total the double transtibial amputee received significant biomechanical advantages by the prosthesis in comparison to sprinting with natural human legs. … it was shown that fast running with the dedicated Cheetah prosthesis is a different kind of locomotion than sprinting with natural human legs.4 (CAS 9)

Based on these findings of "significant biomechanical advantages," the IAAF issued a press release on 14 January 2008 with the following pronouncements. They determined that an athlete with Cheetah legs consumes less energy than an able-bodied athlete running at the same speed. They claimed that Cheetahs create a stride with less vertical motion (resulting in less energy expended) and lose less energy than the human ankle in maximum sprinting. By both consuming and losing less energy, the Cheetah legs are presumably better than biological legs, thus making running easier for the athlete with the amputations. Thus, the IAAF ruled that Cheetahs offer a "demonstrable mechanical advantage" and should be "considered as technical aids in clear contravention of IAAF rule 144.2" ("Oscar Pistorius — Independent"). With this, Pistorius was ruled ineligible from IAAF-sanctioned able-bodied competitions (though, notably, not from the Paralympics).

Prior to this, Pistorius challenged the competitive distinction between abled and disabled bodies through his participation in events specified for each group. The purpose of such a distinction is to create an equal playing field for disabled athletes, based on the presumption that abled athletes would have clear advantages; however, Pistorius' successes brought the abled-advantage into question—so much so that the scales tipped in the opposite direction. The IAAF's ruling attempted to create another distinct line in the sporting sand, placing "natural" bodies on one side and technologically-enhanced bodies on the other. But by ruling Pistorius ineligible on the conditions addressed, the IAAF created a problematic dual construction: Pistorius as both dis-abled and super-abled. This is a curious definitional position, rhetorically and practically: because of his amputation and his perceived lack (both anatomically and in presumed ability), his body is labeled "disabled;" because of his prosthetics, he is perceived to have leapfrogged "abled," moving directly to "advantaged."

Being on both sides of these lines—outside of "abled"—has implications beyond the right to compete. While the Paralympics are highly competitive and played by incredible athletes, they do not have the cultural cache, nor do they receive the media attention, of the "regular" Olympics; the Paralympics (and Paralympians) are, at least on some level, relegated to outsider status in sports. The side of the super-abled is no less othering, particularly in light of the IAAF's statements on the use of performance enhancing drugs; utilizing something that gives one an unfair advantage is tantamount to "jeopardising the moral fabric of sport" ("History"). Thus, Pistorius' super-ability not only excludes him from competition, but constructs him as a kind of cheater circumventing the "true spirit of fair play and equality." The IAAF's implicit act of defining Pistorius as dis/super-abled then extends beyond the bounds of competition, serving to characterize the nature of, at the least, athletes with amputations and seemingly threatening prosthetic limbs.

Pistorius rejected this decision, and by proxy, these labels, reasserting his power to define himself and not be defined by the organization; he filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). While the appeal was based on evidence that the results of the Cologne Report were incorrect (and I'll return to this shortly), this action also served as his own implicit argument for redefinition. As I noted in the introduction, Pistorius, in an interview in 2005, eschewed any distinct label of ability, instead noting simply, "I don't have any legs." He elaborated on this in the same interview:

Anyway, what is disabled? Some people view themselves as disabled because they have one or two disabilities. But what about the millions and millions of abilities they have? So what if you have a leg or two missing? OK, you might not be able to run and jump but there are so many other things you can do. (Philip)

Pistorius' rejection of "disabled" creates an interesting twist on the idea of the construction of disability; in weighing disabilities against abilities, he finds that the scale tips markedly away from "disabled." This position is both intriguing and potentially dangerous, and must be read in context. One might argue that Pistorius here falls victim to a common social narrative of "overcoming" disability, and that, perhaps with youthful naivety, he fails to understand the political consequences of what he is advocating. This might well be true; without knowing Pistorius, I hesitate to make such claims about his intent or political awareness. Neither am I advocating that we abolish "disability," or hold everyone to the standards he suggests. Pistorius is a very strong, athletic young man, and one can easily see that his physical abilities are quite remarkable; this level of athleticism is certainly not the case for every person with, for instance, amputated legs. Additionally, as an accomplished athlete, he has numerous advantages through the support of sponsors and funders, as well as through media attention; not everyone has access, financially or otherwise, to, among other things, the technologically advanced (and expensive) prosthetics he uses. These are vital contextual details that allow Pistorius to separate himself from disability, and that underlie his easy rejection of the term. However, while I believe that this case has resonance beyond the realm of athletics, I am arguing about how Olympic-level athletes are defined. Here, then, in this arena, Pistorius' claim has some weight. But I think something more complicated is at work.

Pistorius' relationship with his prosthetics is foundational and formative. His first steps were taken in prosthetics, as were every step since; all of his training and athletic performances happen with prosthetics. Having never walked on "natural" legs, Pistorius' prosthetic experience is his experience of his body, of locomotion. As such, his experience conflicts with the constructions of his body socially and by the IAAF. These external constructors see him and his prosthetics only through prefixes to "abled," insisting on his differences, placing him within hierarchies of ability. However, for Pistorius, he—his body and prosthetics—is "natural," or more specifically "normal." This claim requires further unpacking; while normalcy offers a compelling basis for Pistorius' appeal, it raises different problems and questions. Deconstructing the IAAF's case through the CAS hearings will reveal these issues.

"…just one of the challenges of 21st Century life"

The CAS Appellate Panel held hearings on Pistorius' case in the spring of 2008, the details of which were recorded in the Arbitral Award 2008/A/1480. Two particular questions emerged as the basis for the appeal:

"Was the process leading to the IAAF Decision procedurally unsound?"

"Was the IAAF Decision wrong in determining that Mr. Pistorius' use of the Cheetah Flex-Foot device contravenes Rule 144.2(e)?"5

At issue here are the means by which the IAAF constructed Pistorius: the underlying motivations of the new rule, the language used in the rule, and the theoretical grounds and tests that determined Pistorius' supposed biomechanical advantage.

On matters of procedure, the CAS determined that the IAAF process "fell short of the high standards" expected of such an organization, though this shortcoming did not directly affect the IAAF's decision (12). However, the panel declared that they considered it "likely that the new Rule [144.2(e)] was introduced with Mr. Pistorius in mind" (10). This claim suggests a broad, underlying anxiety beneath not only the IAAF's challenging of Pistorius, but in the very grounds of their rule-making. This rule was created not merely in response to changes in sport, or, as claimed by the IAAF's legal counsel, in response to spring technology in running shoes, but for the purpose of excluding Pistorius on the basis of his preconceived advantage, prior to any study of the issue.6 But what was the basis for this? Though Pistorius' competitive achievements were notable, his racing times were not significantly different from other racers of his caliber; in other words, he was not blowing away his (able-bodied) competitors with his "fancy" prosthetics, demonstrating an overt threat to the fairness of competition. The threat was instead assumed, emerging from a comparative norming, not a biomechanical one. Perhaps it was Pistorius' appearance that raised anxieties: did seeing a man run with prosthetic legs that looked hyper-technological and futuristic (as opposed to looking "natural") lead to the belief that such technology must give an unnatural advantage? Because he doesn't look fully (or only) human, must he be super-human? This is, of course, speculation, but the underlying grounds of the IAAF's logic demand questioning; at the very least, this point suggests that the rule-making process was neither objective nor value-free (presumably part of the "high standards" expected of them).

The CAS's consideration of the second question, directly addressing rule 144.2(e), revealed issues of rhetoric and of evidence. First, let's consider language. For clarity, I will again cite the text of the rule, which forbids "use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device" (IAAF 100). The CAS wisely critiqued the problematic language of this rule, noting, "Without implying any criticism of the draftsman, who faced an extraordinarily difficult task, the Panel considers that this provision is a masterpiece of ambiguity" (13). While perhaps an extraordinarily obvious observation, the recognition of the difficulty of this task is worthy of note. Pistorius might have unfairly been the inspiration for creating this rule at that point in time, but the issue of technological enhancement does need addressing; accomplishing this fairly is extraordinarily difficult. My critique is not that this rule was created, but how and why, and where the rule failed.

To this end, then, we come again to issues of definition. The CAS Panel deconstructed this "masterpiece of ambiguity" quite well. Though they tentatively conceded that the Cheetah foot could be considered a "technical device," they challenged the vagueness of the phrases "incorporates springs" and "advantage…over another athlete." The following extended quote shows their objections at the level of definition, first for the notion of "springs":

What constitutes a device that incorporates springs? Technically, almost every non-brittle material object is a "spring" in the sense that it has elasticity. Certainly the Cheetah Flex-Foot is a "spring", but does it incorporate a "spring"? A natural human leg is itself a "spring." (13)

They next address "advantage":

It was urged on the Panel by the IAAF's counsel that the ordinary and natural meaning of the word advantage is absolute, in the sense that if a technical device is used, and is determined (presumably by an appropriate and fair process) to provide an athlete with any advantage, however small, in any part of a competition, that device must render that athlete ineligible to compete regardless of any compensating disadvantages. (13)

The Panel continued by unfolding the assumptions packed into seemingly innocuous, absolute terms, in turn complicating, or revealing the complicated nature of, the relationship between "technical devices" and bodies. They conceded that some devices, such as motors or pogo sticks, would undoubtedly confer advantages to a user; however, many "devices" fall into the space between, including, here, a "natural human leg" (also a "spring") and a wheel. As Pistorius makes slippery the presumed grounds of disability, ability, and superability, so too are the unstable grounds of "advantage" and "technical device" revealed. The panel noted the IAAF's insistence on the "ordinary and natural" meaning of "advantage," but this meaning is tied directly to that of "technical device." The course of this investigation suggests that all of these terms (including the descriptors of "ability") seem to be reliant on presumably "natural" and clear meanings; here, the terms are instead revealed as constructions dependent on undefined assumptions about presences and absences of flesh and technologies.

The Panel also addressed related evidentiary issues. They returned to the idea of "advantage" to query for what, exactly, the IAAF was looking. It was determined that the Cologne study, under strict direction from the IAAF, looked only for discrete advantages in quantifying Pistorius' performance; any singular aspect of his running that proved advantageous as compared to an able-bodied runner provided grounds for ineligibility (e.g., how his speed in the last two quarters of a sprint increased while able-bodied runners lost momentum). It did not matter if Pistorius was disadvantaged in any other discrete measurements—the IAAF was interested in any advantage, not an "overall net advantage" (CAS 15). The resonance of this limited meaning affects the situation in two ways. First, this demonstrates (again) that the IAAF began this investigation with the unsupported assumption that Pistorius' prosthetics were enhancements, and looked only to confirm this belief. Second, as this level of specificity was not clearly communicated in any of the IAAF's public communications about Pistorius, the IAAF gave the public the impression that he was inherently advantaged. Their results and ruling suggest that amputating legs and adding prosthetics simply enhances the body, without question or complication.7 By not considering the full metabolic and biomechanical experience of running with amputated legs and Cheetah prosthetics—the places where Pistorius had advantages, but also those where he was equal, or even disadvantaged—the IAAF disregarded the complexity of the relationship between bodies and prosthetics. Additionally, upon further discussion, the experts for both Pistorius and the IAAF agreed that the issues of vertical motion and energy potentially lost by the human ankle are not fully understood.8 In other words, the experts could not absolutely determine the biomechanical output of the "natural" human body, the basis of comparison for Pistorius' performance. In light of this, the Panel noted that it was "impracticable to assess definitively whether the Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthesis acts as more than, or less than, the human ankle and lower leg" (16).

On 16 May 2008, the CAS revoked the IAAF decision, and Pistorius again became eligible to complete in IAAF-sanctioned (able-bodied) events—specifically the Beijing Olympics. The decision came with strict emphasis that the ruling applied only to Pistorius, and only in regards to the specific model of prosthesis examined. In the end, Pistorius was not fast enough to qualify for the South African Olympic team, reinforcing in practice that he wielded no significant advantage with his blades. Regardless, the significance of winning the appeal against the IAAF still resonates. Despite being targeted for exclusion, being defined as both dis- and super-abled, Pistorius persevered, arguing for and earning the opportunity to compete, and opening the door for further considerations of prosthetics and athletics.

Unfixing the Norm

Certainly, the CAS showed both insight and foresight in their analysis of the initial IAAF decision, teasing out rhetorical complications and ambiguities, and expanding their perception to include a man who appeared as part machine. Pistorius' experience of his body as "normal" was confirmed and accepted by the experts. However, though they granted eligibility to a body that was not solely "natural," they did so in light of its ability to pass as natural, to meet (but not exceed) the performative norms established for an un-enhanced body. In other words, Pistorius' prosthetic legs were allowed because they did not seem to work any better than natural legs. In describing the "unsteady rhetorical stance" of narrative prosthesis, Mitchell and Snyder criticize an oft-held view of disability:

If disability falls too far from an acceptable norm, a prosthetic intervention seeks to accomplish an erasure of difference all together; yet, failing that, as is always the case with prosthesis, the minimal goal is to return one to an acceptable degree of difference. (7)

This view seems to be precisely that ascribed to by the IAAF and even the CAS, though here in the most limited terms. Prosthetics are acceptable only if they meet the minimal goal, which seems to be an "acceptable degree of difference" below the presumed abilities and norms of the "natural" body. But, according to the experts, the abilities of the natural body cannot yet be quantified precisely (and whether this can or should be accomplished remains to be seen). Further complicating this issue, the very notion of a "natural" body—one completely separate from technology—is problematic. Certainly runners are awash in technologies: shoes, uniforms, and corrective eyewear, to name just a few. While the IAAF addresses some of these in the Competition Rules, they seem not to be scanning every competitor to determine what technologies she or he may have, and precisely to what extent those technologies may be enhancing bodies.9 Additionally, what is defined as "technology" can be quite broad; as Foucault argues, interventions on the body to promote discipline and "health" (e.g., changes in diet and exercise; the addition of medication) can be seen as technologies, and pull at the definition of "natural," revealing it to be in fact quite unstable and malleable, and intertwined with conceptions of "normal."

We come back, then, to the problems of "normal" suggested in Pistorius' self-defining. In the realm of Disability Studies, exposing the construction of norms is often the first step in attempting to expand their definitions, or even eliminate their very existence, and in part, this is what I am attempting to do here—to expose the grounds (or lack thereof) from which the IAAF built their norms.10 However, we cannot eliminate norms here; in the realm of competition, the term "normal" is necessary in order to create some notion of a fair playing field. How, then, and by whom, should terms be defined? For the IAAF, the only seemingly available categories are abled, or disabled/superabled. Here, Pistorius' self-defining as "not disabled" worked quite well. His "normal" body, his "normal" means of ambulation, is prosthetic—with his athletic prowess and strong body, he is able to integrate, or, in the terms of Merleau-Ponty, "intervolve" with his technology intimately. In the end, the problem of defining Pistorius is solved, at least for the moment, through the negotiation of terms by multiple agents: the IAAF, medical and scientific experts, the CAS, and Pistorius himself. Negotiating terms with every individual athlete is unrealistic (and likely undesirable), but considering more carefully what determines a "technological advantage," and thus what defines an athlete not only in ability but in character, would be to the IAAF's advantage—as would integrating perspectives from Disability Studies. These might help the organization reconsider that which remains assumed and undefined, to see the body as constructed in more ways than just with Cheetah legs.

Pistorius' case, while quite specific and individual, highlights the complications and seeming impossibilities of defining bodies, what the CAS described as "one of the challenges of 21st century life" (16). As our prosthetics advance, as our bodies become further integrated with technologies, the questions raised here will continue to arise—in athletic competition, but certainly beyond that as well—and the questions must be reconsidered, renegotiated. To define is to wield power. While I'd like to advocate self-definition and individual choice as a "solution," a means to control the power, there are clearly spaces where this is not sufficient. For reasons valid, problematic, and necessary, definitions will be imposed on bodies. What I have highlighted here is how that process can go terribly wrong when the grounds for defining are poorly understood (or entirely unquestioned). Canguilhem argues, "To act, it is necessary at least to localize" (39). This seems like a good place to start. These definitions—of "normal," "abled," "disabled," and "superabled"—must be malleable, contextual, kairotic. We must constantly renegotiate our definitions.

Works Cited

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  • "IAAF Competition Rules 2008." iaaf.org. International Association of Athletics Foundation. Web. 19 Oct. 2008.
  • Kurzman, Stephen. "'There's No Language for This:' Communication and Alignment in Contemporary Prosthetics." Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. Eds. Katherine Ott, David Serlin, and Stephen Mihm. New York: New York UP, 2002. 227-246.
  • McHugh, Josh. "Blade Runner." Wired. Condé Nast Digital. January 2007. Web.18 Oct 2008.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. New York: Routledge Classics, 1958.
  • Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P: 2000.
  • "Oscar Pistorius — Independent Scientific study concludes that cheetah prosthetics offer clear mechanical advantage." iaaf.org. International Association of Athletics Foundation. 14 January 2008. Web. 19 Oct. 2008.
  • Philip, Robert. "Pistorius masters quick step." Telegraph.co.uk. Telegraph Media Group Limited. 26 April 2005. Web. 18 Oct 2008.
  • Sobchack, Vivian. "A Leg to Stand On: Prosthetics, Metaphor, and Materiality." The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. Eds. Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra. Boston: MIT Press, 2005. 17-42.
  • Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.


  1. My inference here refers only to the description of the IAAF's history as stated on their website, which is admittedly vague. Unfortunately, at no place in the website do they state a clear mission or purpose, outside of keeping statistics and "governing"; while other documents (such as the IAAF Competition Rules) may expand on these ideas, I think consideration of how the organization describes itself in this readily-accessible site is valuable. Additionally, this issue of vagueness becomes important when considering later documents, suggesting a pattern of rhetorical problems.

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  2. I am using pages 99-100 of the 2008 Competition Rules; the addition in 2007 is verified in multiple documents, including Pistorius' Arbitral Award (p. 7). The 2009 edition is also available; this amendment can now be found on page 130, labeled as Rule 144.2 (f).

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  3. Various aspects of this are recounted in numerous news articles and interviews. However, I am relying specifically on the text of the CAS Arbitral Award for its official, comprehensive account of the case.

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  4. This text is from the abstract of the 15 Dec 2007 Cologne Report, cited in the CAS Arbitral Award.

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  5. Two other issues were determined in the arbitration, one concerning the IAAF's jurisdiction, the other concerning whether the IAAF decision was unlawfully discriminatory. The first was dropped later in the case, and the second was rejected by the CAS. Though interesting, neither are necessary for my discussion here.

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  6. The IAAF's counsel made this claim in regards to the shoes; the IAAF itself pointed out that this was not the reason for the new rule, as that issue was already addressed by Rule 143.2 (CAS 10).

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  7. For examples of the difficulties and complications of being fit with prosthetics, see Sobchack (17-42) and Kurzman (227-246).

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  8. Pistorius' experts were Dr. Hugh Herr and Dr. Roger Kram, and the IAAF's were Prof. Brüggemann and Dr. Potthast. In the arbitral award, it is noted that both scientific teams had "a mutual trust in the scientific integrity of each other;" while they didn't agree on all issues to be considered regarding Pistorius' performance, their disagreements were based on the complexity of the scientific evidence, not on the kinds of problems demonstrated by the IAAF's logic (14).

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  9. Again, the issue of shoes that obviously contain springs is addressed by Rule 143.2 (CAS 10).

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  10. See, for instance, Davis; Mitchell and Snyder; Garland Thomson.

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