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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pistorius cleared Part 2

Views from the running industry: Logic and implications

Yesterday (or earlier today), depending on your location, we brought a preliminary response to the CAS ruling that will see the introduction of technology into running over the next 50 years (you can read this below, if you are receiving this as an email). The ruling applies specifically to Oscar Pistorius, but has far-reaching ramifications, many of which are not even apparent today. One thing I feel sure of is that the day, 16 May, will be looked back on with a great deal of regret some day, because it is a mistake for the sport.

For today, however, I thought I'd rather refer to a couple of discussion threads on the topic, from within the running community. They give some diverse insight and opinion. I've also posted in two of the discussion pages, so my opinion is clear there (some repetition between the two), and it means I don't have to double post. Those discussions:

Before you jump to those (if you have time!), I do have two observations about these discussions that sum up pretty much what is in those discussions and should be read first:

1. The running community looks at this differently, and "knows"

First, it's interesting to me that within these running "communities", the prevailing opinion is that he has an advantage, whereas currently, most people outside of the sport say he does not. I feel that over time, that perception will change (wait for it to become obvious that the advantage exists, and then everyone will "see the light"), but it's nevertheless interesting that informed runners see the advantage logically and clearly, while those outside, or with any other incentive (other than the sport of running, that is), fail to recognize it.

I wonder if something in our experience as runners (particularly if you've been semi- or fully-competitive) provides this? Some will argue that it's false perception, but certainly, the logic of the arguments, and the relative lack of emotion, is completely different from what you see in general discussions, and it interests me that the opinion could be so polarized, with runners, in my opinion, knowing the truth.

2. The range of implications- endless, worrying and very likely

A. Deliberate amputations

Secondly, you'll see in these discussions many people's response is that the logical consequence of this decision is that people will cut their legs off and try to gain an advantage. I don't think this is beyond the realms of possibility - remember that a survey once found that 70% of elite athletes would take steroids to win gold medals, even if it was GUARANTEED to kill them by age 50! So it's not as extreme an option as people think!

However, this drastic approach of amputation would probably not work in adults, because an adult could not, in all likelihood, learn to run well enough on the blades to compete at a high level (though in the future, the technology may even allow this to happen, which is a huge concern, and should have been fundamental to the CAS decision).

B. Companies "scouting" for talent

A child, however, is another proposition. And I honestly do believe (you can save this post and refer back to it one day, whether I am right or wrong!), that this decision will inspire sports companies to go out and hunt for double amputee CHILDREN. Because a child, given the right equipment (which is expensive) and the right support (also costly) CAN learn to run on prosthetics. And so for that reason, I believe that the implications of this decision will not be felt now, but in a generation from now, when a West African child, or perhaps one from Jamaica or the USA, reaches the age of 20 and goes out and runs 40 seconds for 400m!

Consider for a moment the following fact: 95% of the world's fastest sprinters (100m, 200m and 400m) originate in West Africa. For some reason, we have all implicitly assumed that Oscar Pistorius has a "natural ability" to run 46 seconds. But why should this be? It's quite conceivable to me that there is a West African, Jamaican, and US runner, who would be capable of running 4 or 5 seconds FASTER than Pistorius if given the blades and the training at a young enough age!

It's for this reason that if I was a rep at Nike, Adidas, Mizuno, I'd be drawing up plans to get into West Africa right now, and find those people. In 12 years time, an 8-year old today, could win an Olympic title in every event from 400m upwards. The world records would stand at 41 seconds and 1:36 for 800m. That is perhaps the most realistic, though long-term implication.

C. Performance improvements in a laboratory: Technology and overnight speed.

A third possibility, of course, is that now that the technology has been introduced, someone has to regulate it! It's possible that over the next few months, the massive increase in funding (driven by the now real prospect of Pistorius running in able-bodied races), will see technology advance to the point where performance improves by 2 seconds, almost overnight! That destroys the spirit of sport, it compromises its integrity, and it most definitely makes a mockery of the "science" provided by Prof Hugh Herr, who himself doesn't want human legs back because because they will be archaic.

This prospect is the most likely short term implication. Now, the CAS should have considered this aspect in their decision, but based on the news releases, their decision was based around Pistorius and evidence for HIS advantages. There are many problems with that approach, as we discussed last week, but the pivotal issue in this whole trial is that Pistorius, through clever PR and marketing, managed to make this about himself. It never should have been - this was about technology in sport. And Pandora's box is now open, and how the IAAF, or any other sport, will regulate this, is beyond me. Drugs, cheating, fraud, and now this - sport is heading down a cul-de-sac that destroys the very integrity of the game.

To quote something I wrote on one of the discussion threads:

In marketing at University, they teach you all about managing people's perceptions through the media, through PR, and through clever use of facts. It's all about creating a mindset in people and the "positioning" your product in their minds in a certain way. And there's a great saying I recall: "What is the difference between a rat and a squirrel?" The answer is marketing. That is the power of positioning something in your mind - same "product", different perception.

And I thought of that yesterday, because one might ask "What is the difference between a ban and a clearance for Pistorius?". And the answer would be the same - it's marketing. It used science, yes. And it really irks me that science can be that "corrupt". But then just look at the supplement industry, which is, I am beginning to realise, looking more and more similar to this saga - big companies, big finances, big incentives, big secrecy. But it's marketing that won this battle, and in years to come, the sport will pay for that.

Looking forward: The week ahead

So, I believe it's a matter of time before the advantage becomes very obvious (and Prof Herr is proven correct - human legs will be "archaic"), but until then, we don't plan on dwelling on the verdict. However, I'm intrigued by a question posed by our friends over at LetsRun.com. They ask:

What could Pistorius run for 800m?

Next week, I'll do an analysis of Pistorius' pacing strategy and predict his 800m time.
Let's also say that we'll never see Pistorius run the 800m event, because then his advantage would be obvious. But it makes an interesting discussion point, so we'll look at that.

The whole pacing strategy issue, and the fact that Pistorius is the only athlete who has ever sped up in the second half of a 400m race was :

i) Conveniently overlooked at the CAS hearing, and
ii) Ignorantly dismissed by Pistorius' experts.

We'll look at this issue, because it is still, to this day, the single most damning evidence that he has an advantage.

That also links in nicely with our fatigue series, which we'll attack next week, with a post on exercise in the heat. So do join us then!

Ross

LATE EDIT TO THIS POST + ADDITION:

We have received some terrific feedback and discussion to this post (it can be found below under "Comments" if you're on the site, or if you are reading this as an email, click on the post title to be taken to the site). But for those on email, I thought I would post one comment in particular, and my response to it, which is an absolutely crucial piece of this puzzle.

Post: From Coach Dan:

Clearly, the decision was made due to the lack of scientific evidence that there is an advantage. In fact, if you read earlier sections of the decision, it notes that Dr. Bruggeman indicates the testing did not prove a competitive advantage

My response:

When you ask the question: Does the research prove that Pistorius has an advantage? This question is completely unanswerable, nobody on earth can say either yes or no to it. If they do, they are lying or ignorant.

The truth is that the only way to find an advantage is to do an experiment where an athlete runs in normal legs, then in prosthetics. Of course, that's impossible, and so the only approach for the scientist to this matter is to look for differences that imply advantage - to actually confirm advantage is impossible.

Now, this has been known since last year - we wrote it on this blog in June, and numerous others were saying the same thing - you CANNOT prove a performance advantage. But you can PROVE PHYSIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE. And if you find that difference, then it is grounds for a ban.

The CAS have clearly seen it differently - thanks, in no small part, to 7 lawyers from New York. Therefore, if you ask the question: Is there a PHYSIOLOGICAL advantage?..the answer is YES. Is there a performance advantage? The answer is probably, but not 100% certain. And that is where marketing takes over, and three lawyers can be led to the incorrect verdict.

This case should always have been about the possibility that the technology can provide an advantage, or a difference. Yet miraculously, not a single "expert" (IAAF or otherwise) has recognized the absolutely crucial evidence that Pistorius does not slow down in the second half of the race. In fact, this is THE CRUCIAL finding, and it's been dismissed. This finding does show a PERFORMANCE ADVANTAGE.

So, the law says "Can you prove it?" Science says "Can you suggest it, based on hypotheses and physiological theory?" What Professor Bruggemann's study did was confirm the existing theories for an advantage - classic science, hypothesis - research - result - conclusion. But proof? That's a legal issue. And if you stop to think about it, little is actually 100% provable. Do violent TV games lead to more gun crime? Does watching TV lead to lower IQ? Many studies have looked at questions like these, and found very good associations, proving a link. But the trick is to ask the right question. When you have 7 top lawyers from New York, you know that they'll ask the right question, and that was done here.

18 Comments:

Lorenzo Coopman said...

I think this decision will eventually divide/split the athletic community. There will be a big money/media circuit (Circus) ,that will allow ergogenics (blades,all kinds of powersuits) and see unbelievable records, and a marginal low key "back to basic" movement. Those people will not break world records, they won't run 9.79 on the 100m. They won't swim in the XXth generation of the LZR racer. Why? Because to their feel the aide provided by the ergogenic will be too big.
Allowing Pistorius will in the end be the same as setting up a race between old school '70 quad skates vs the inline skates we now have, sure it's the same, but is it really the same ?! And now it's time for me to shut up ;-)

jumbanho said...

As a scientist myself (I'm an ecologist), I sympathize with your frustration about emotion and politics over-ruling good science. However, I don't think the overall outcome will be too terrible. Eventually, Pistorius or someone else will win a big race, or set a world record and the sport will have to react in a more sensible way.

At this moment, Pistorius presents a big marketing opportunity, not just for himself, but for the Olympics, meet promoters and journalists. Once it is clear that the technology makes people faster, no one will be interested in watching mechanically assisted people race unassisted people.

I do feel bad for the few athletes who will lose gold medals to the first successful mechanically assisted athletes.

I think that as far as issues of equipment, running has it so much easier than other sports like swimming and biking. We just need to ride this one out.

jumbanho said...

I also have question about the CAS ruling. Does this only apply to the current generation of blade technology or can Pistorius run with whatever they come up with later in the year?

Coach Dan said...

According to the news on the IAAF.org site:
"The CAS Panel has today delivered its decision. It has decided that, at the moment, not enough is known scientifically to be able to prove that Mr Pistorius obtains an advantage from the use of the prostheses. Consequently, it has cleared him to run."

This would suggest that the decision was not based on advantage vs no-advantage, rather on lack of evidence (i.e. IAAF failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an advantage was obtained).

Dan

Coach Dan said...

More Relevant Quotes from the decision:
http://www.tas-cas.org/d2wfiles/document/1085/5048/0/Pistorius%20award%20(scanned%20published%20on%20CAS%20website).pdf

See paragraphs 83-86. Clearly, the decision was made due to the lack of scientific evidence that there is an advantage. In fact, if you read earlier sections of the decision, it notes that Dr. Bruggeman indicates the testing did not prove a competitive advantage (paragraphs 50 and 61).

Dan

Chris said...

This is not really relevant to this case, but there is an interesting video here of a one armed guy benching 600lb with prosthetic arm.

Coach Dan said...

In response to jumbanho, paragraph 102 of the decision indicates the ruling only applies to the particular model and is not a general license to use new versions.

Dan

jumbanho said...

Thanks for reading the ruling Coach Dan

jorge pereyra from Uruguay said...

I think there are sentimental, scientific and ECONOMICAL arguments. IAAF hasn't got feelings (and we could see what IAAF has done with scientific arguments); the IAAF's popes think about money: what can be more attracive for the tv show than a double amputee running and outperforming "normal" runners????. Who can explain that caffeine is not banned any more???? (everybody knows -and science showed- caffeine enhance athletic performance). It isn´t the Pandora box, it's a nasty business.
jorgepereyra@dedicado.net.uy

bryan said...

I really love your coverage of this issue. I wrote my thoughts on the matter on my blog:

Oscar Pistorius and the real issue

I don't know if you would agree with my solution, but I'd love to know everyone's opinions.

Again, thanks for the great coverage!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi there everyone

Thank you for the thoughtful and provocative comments to this post, and the larger issue. It's certainly wonderful to know that the discussion can be sensible and objective...!

Just to respond, one point at a time:

Lorenzo

I can see you being correct about the split, and it's funny that this concept is eerily similar to the one that many people propose regarding drugs in sport. People have said that sport should be split into a "clean" version, and a "dirty" version, where anything goes.

And suddenly, it became even clearer to me that what the CAS has done is to legalize another form of cheating. Where in the past doping was the avenue of choice, technological doping is now on the horizon and will become real. So I agree with you, and hope it doesn't get to that.

jambanho

Thanks for the comments, good to hear from you. I am not sure that the consequences will be so easily contained. I do really hope that someone emerges from the USA, Jamaica or West AFrica and runs a 41-second 400m! I would love to see that happen, and provide the proof to everyone that this advantage is absolutely enormous. I feel it's a matter of time, as I said. Pistorius won't do that on the current blades - he's not the person, not fast enough or talented enough. But there will be someone who is, and when that happens, the red faces and tap-dancing will provide some comic relief.

As for the marketing concept, that is fundamental to this whole issue. Make no mistake, this is about money, money and more money.

To answer your next question, not 100% sure of the future implications of the ruling. The problem is that even if this decision is limited to this situation, it's the fact that the sport is now being steered in that direction. It's now a matter of time before the next step is taken, and then the next, and the next, and so on. The slippery slope concept applies...! So I'm not all that concerned about whether this decision is limited or not, the only thing that matters is whether future decisions are influenced by this precedent. They must be, and that is a huge problem.

Coach Dan

Thanks so much for the information, and providing the reading. I'd looked through it, and I'm glad you provided a link - thanks!

Just one absolutely critical point:

When you ask the question: Does the research prove that Pistorius has an advantage? This question is completely unanswerable, nobody on earth can say either yes or no to it. If they do, they are lying or ignorant.

The truth is that the only way to find an advantage is to do an experiment where an athlete runs in normal legs, then in prosthetics. Of course, that's impossible, and so the only approach for the scientist to this matter is to look for differences that imply advantage - to actually confirm advantage is impossible.

Now, this has been known since last year - we wrote it on this blog in June, and numerous others were saying the same thing - you CANNOT prove a performance advantage. But you can PROVE PHYSIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE. And if you find that difference, then it should be grounds for a ban.

The CAS have clearly seen it differently - thanks, in no small part, to 7 lawyers from New York and some serious backing. Therefore, if you ask the question: Is there a PHYSIOLOGICAL advantage? The answer is YES. Is there a performance advantage? The answer is probably, but not 100% certain. And that is where marketing takes over, and three lawyers can be led to the incorrect verdict.

This should always have been about the possibility that the technology can provide an advantage, or a difference. Yet miraculously, not a single "expert" (IAAF or otherwise) has recognized the absolutely crucial evidence that Pistorius does not slow down in the second half of the race. In fact, this is THE CRUCIAL finding, and it's been dismissed. This finding does show a PERFORMANCE ADVANTAGE.

This point is so important that I'm actually going to post it as an edit to this post above, thanks Dan!

Bryan

Thanks for the compliments, great to have you here. I'll check your site out right now and post something on it! And use it in future posts!

Thanks a lot, to everyone for the discussion!

Ross

JM said...

I have been following this discussion for the last couple of months and also read a number of publications elsewhere on this matter. I'm no scientist, but I did practice as an attorney for a while and my legal training leads me to the following comment:

A open tribunal or court, as this one at the CAS certainly was, is normally subject to the old saying of audi alterem partem, which literally means - to hear the other side. In any legal proceeding, both parties must make available for inspection, the other side's evidence, in order to know about it and prepare for it.

Now surely, if this was a fair tribunal wherein evidence was presented in the same manner as can be expected of a properly constituted legal proceeding, then both parties would have had access to both sets of research, would have been able to go through it, analyse it, disect it and question it. In our SA courts, if the matter to be decided is of a difficult and extremely expert field, the bench would also have a consultant sitting in the trial / proceeding in order to advise the bench on the technical/difficult aspects.

Now, if these CAS proceedings were conducted in any manner not consistent with the above, then the proceedings and any decision made in it is "invalid", for lack of a better word. In SA courts that would be grounds for a review of the process, but there is no such higher body with the CAS.

On a different point - can anyone see that the next logical implementation of this will be in cycling? I mean, it's just perfect. It weighs a fraction of a human lower leg, has no blood or muscle to get tired, provides - with some slight modification for a cycle - perfect energy return on the down stroke etc etc etc. Gone are the days of drugs in sport. Hello to the days of the bionic man.

JM said...

Sorry guys, I have more to add:-

Interesting: The matter was agreed upon to be a de novo investigation into the matter, yet, a lot of reliance was placed on the testimony on and the findings of the previous testing done. Surely, to be technically correct, if a de novo investigation was done it would mean that a complete new test would be done under the auspices of the tribunal and THEN a decision would be made.

The burden of proof was deemed to be a "balance of probability". This means that the more probable viewpoint would be deemed to be the correct one. I cannot see, on the raw evidence of the science, how they could find Pistorius' version to be more probable.

An interesting point on the proceedings is that the experts went into a room to find out what they agreed upon and what not. According to the finding, the experts agreed that Pistorius had less up and down movement. They also agreed - and this I find interesting because that's not what I understood from this blog or from prof Bruggerman's report - that Pistorius fatigued at the same pace as ablebodied athletes running at sub-maximal speed.

That I don't get - it was shown that Pistorius has a faster second 200m than anybody else in history, but he supposedly fatigues at the same rate? How?

This also indicates that Prof Bruggerman and his colleagues had the Houston report at their disposal to go through it because the agreed to a couple of things from it. Where can we find it?

To me it seems that this thing came down to what most cases come down to - a discussion of the process. It looks, from the findings, that the IAAF slipped up in a big way at some points - thus leaving a gap that was forced open. It was the process that was adjudged to be unable to provide the probability, rather than the science, which is a great pity.

In my humble opinion a legal tribunal is the last place to adjudicate these kinds of scientific things, but that was the only option available. The tribunal made a legal decision - and on the face of it, it seems the correct one if one looks at what they say they were presented with. I mean, Prof Bruggerman did not even agree with a summation made by the IAAF on his own findings.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and great comments from everybody.

My 2 cents ...

I totally agree the view of jumbanho and these sound confirmed by coach dan findings ... at the moment Pistorius is correctly allowed to participate, since there is no "evidence" of an advantage ... IAFF is not stupid, nobody want to see disabled-body win over normal able-body.

The presence of Pistorius will be an isolated case, possibly used for bring a positive message to the mass.

Olimpics is all about show and medals ... medals will go to the able-body athletes, Pistorius will make the "show" by means giving to the mass emotions and the feeling that even less lucky people can have high achievements as result of the hard work.

Scientifically the CAS could have made the wrong decision ... but a single green/guest card for Pistorius it is the best possible decision that CAS could have took.

e_lm_70

Alan said...

Hey group, just some thoughts I had after stepping back a little from the issue.

When a radically different paradigm is introduced, a community will often react aggressively to defend its beliefs.

However, we all agree that a hypothesis is proposed then tested before it becomes a theory. A theory remains open to the challenges of repeat testing. And until there is sufficient supporting evidence it remains a theory, not a law.

An accepted part of rigorous scientific testing is proof of statistical robustness.

At this time, Oscar is but a single case study. There is no way we can not suggest anything more than simple a description of his abilities. Any extrapolations would be severely premature.

There are many aspects of high performance sport that science, as we currently understand, it can not explain.

At any time we begin speaking in absolutes before sufficient evidence has been collected we are failing science and at risk of presenting a bias in our thinking.

Coach Dan said...

Thanks for the follow-up. I agree with all your points. Following along the lines of your argument, the next logical question would be: "Is the advantage gained in the second half of the race greater then the disadvantage incurred at the start?" Because if it's not (my apologies if this has already been discussed), then is there an "advantage"?

Dan

Ash Routen said...

A really great article guys! very thought provoking. I recently went to a conference where one of the speakers, presented upon the 'technologicalisation of the human athlete'. It suggested as you said that the future may well open up a whole can of worms. Such as intentional amputation/ operations, maybe genetic engineering to predispose an embryo to have more type 1 fibres for example. It worries me that like you said, these things may well happen, I've heard that some baseball players are having tendon reconstruction so that they can pitch faster! Sport should just be the pure ideal of athlete v athlete no enhancements (or the swimming suits!) just good training!

Norrie said...

I come from an "athletics' background having been competitive, and more now as a coach, official, media and administrative level. I commenced as an engineer -so I have tried to view this case from each of these viewpoints and have previously aired personal viewpoint in the media -
Initially I was floored by the CAS decision, but upon reading the judgment and documents - it is clear that:
IAAF looked only at one rule - which I belive to be a mistake
That the protocol given to the testing team in Cologne was flawed in that it looked to prove advantages and not overall advantage in performance (all athletes have strengths and weaknesses with the overall performance being the time - Oscars slow start outweighs performance at 100 and 200 - but 400M? and in future 800 to 1500?)
Ironically Oscars Expert assigned to watch the Cologne testing was not allowed to contribute as his mail was never seen by Bruggemann - Had they colaborated on the protocol it may have given a better - more conclusive outcome.

The IAAF was knocked for giving the council a testing summary that had never been seen by Bruggeman and contained incorrect data, for their voting procedures and other administration. This was not deemed to change or impact the outcome.

The burden of proof lay with the IAAF and the measure was 'balance of probability' In effect there was little need for Oscar to prove his disadvanatge only to create question over the method of appraisal- It was law versus Science

Yes it left questions - the right questions were asked - and the verdict (quite understandably if you read the judgement) was best described by the scottish law's - Case Not Proven - so lets move on to the future!

It only applies to Oscar and to this specific prosthetic - so an immediate need for assizing on all aspects in the same way that Hammers discus and javelins are assized - but much more detailed and clearly specific to each person - Thats a nightmare waiting to happen.

But back to Oscar (which this case should never have been about - it should have been the principles and future practicailites as well)

The judgement refers to him as a 100m 200m and 400m athlete - so presumably he is restricted to this (although my feeling is 1000m will prove to be his optimum distance - lets see what you get Ross - so 800m 1500 in competitions)

The immediate future sees a possible 400 relay, with a rolling start over 20m! - that puts a different spin on things - Running in the second lap, with the protection of 100m plus of lanes in which momentum will be maximised could carve seconds from his lap time! The question over his stability if knocked or barged will require viewing - but imagine the backlas for the first athlete to fight his way past Oscar - and if that resulted in a fall. It would put the Budd Dekker instance into obscurity! Chances are Oscar will have an invisble protection blanket until such time as he pushes out past some one else - (is that an unfair advantage) a canny Scot might put a few coins on South Africa 4x400 making it to the podium if he is selected.
SASCOC have already stated a willingness to consider this even if he doesn't qualify at A standard - does that mean that other B standards should be considered for the athletics team - if not will that be a special case / unfair advantage?

The games may not have started but the Fun is only just beginning - However for the time being the decision has been made (*) so now we need to look at how best to protect and advance the sport on that basis
(*) The second judgement outcome recognises that a future case which has greater scientific evidence may see the IAAF prove Oscar and these prosthtics to have a net advantage and this would then reverse the decision. Unfortunatley this avenue has been made more difficult given the implication of the previous IAAF processes, and statements by top officials which imply that the process may not have been totally without discrimination