How the Olympics Discriminates against the Unfit: A Personal Odyssey

Caster Semenya

In what can only be described as a discriminatory measure, the Olympic Games forbids the participation by the majority of humanity. In the name of excellence, they have wilfully debarred large swaths of mediocre athletes the opportunity to attain their dream by displaying their lack of sporting prowess. It is inconceivable that the genetically unendowered in the 21st century should still bear the stigma of being physically challenged. 

By naming them as such, this is indicative of the disdain that such non-athletes have to endure on a daily basis through the discriminatory exceptionalist dogma perpetuated by the world’s athletic elite. Why should only a Phelps or a Usain Bolt win all of the accolades?

Main picture: Controversy still swirls around South African 800m Olympic athlete Caster Semenya due to being intersexed. To compound it, Caster suffers from hyperandrogenism – a medical condition that causes an excessive amount of testosterone in her body

In recognition that the Olympics does not cater for all categories of athletes, a small band of British WW2 veterans staged their own event in 1948. Their focus was solely on physical disabilities. Such were the ramifications of this momentous decision, that the organisers were obliged to recognise different categories of impairment. They confronted this necessity by defining allowable disability types. These in turn were divided into ten eligible impairment types.

The categories were defined as impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, athetosis, vision impairment and intellectual impairment. These categories are further broken down into classifications, which vary from sport to sport.

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Oscar Pretorius at the Olympics. Accusations that his prosthetic legs have advantaged Oscar still abound

Notably missing from this list is the largest category of all: the unfit.

If minorities of sportsmen such as the genetically gifted and the physically impaired have managed to manipulate the sporting codes to their advantage, why has the majority not been able to organise sports to suit their abilities?

The only plausible explanation is that there has been an ongoing campaign of exclusion. This cycle commences at school. How does this arise? One’s first exposure to this phenomenon is during the PT lesson. Here the unfit are consciously mocked for their inability to perform the activities as speedily and graciously as their athletic peers.

Paralympics

In order not to diminish the self esteem of these youths, I recommend that all PT classes be divided into fit & unfit. Furthermore to ensure that the unfit are not placed in the invidious position of accidentally getting fit, the sporting activities should be performed at the pace of the most unfit person. Failing that the unfit should be categorised as follows: congenitally unfit, unfit due to weight challenges, unfit due to indolence and unfit due to exercise phobia.

If this categorisation had been implemented during my years at Alexander Road High School, my self esteem would have been boosted by being able to beat my peers when running around the rugby field. I would not have endured the angst of always being last to the rugby poles.

running

Just as crucially was the apprehension caused by the gym apparatus session. I was never able to master the parallel bars or the pommel horse. My undignified attempts at the various activities on this equipment have left a permanent scar on my self-worth which I have had to endure forever.

Genetics was again to play a cruel trick on me. At 30 years of age I engaged in road running. All my long forgotten concerns about having to get fit before I could effectively participate in sport arose yet again.

Once again I was bombarded by the propaganda of the fit. Central to their ability, they claimed, was that they had unlocked the secret to athletic prowess: TRAINING. This was an alien concept to me. All manner of strangers would effusively attempt to convince me of the benefits of this wonder drug.

Exercises on the pommel horse were beyond my ability

Exercises on the pommel horse were beyond my ability

Their subliminal message was “no pain no gain.”

It worked. The more that I trained, the faster that my times became. Eventually I was running 10kms in 44 minutes. Then a fellow runner pulled out a graph; the piece de resistance. On it was plotted the expected Comrades finish time based upon one’s 10km time. There it was. A sub 9 hours. I trained even harder.

An astonishing phenomenon arose. In spite of a 44 minute 10km, I was not able to achieve a projected 1 hour 40 minutes in a half marathon, nor a 3 hour 30 minutes in a marathon. Not only did I miss these projected times but I missed them by a country mile.

Running in Soweto

Running in Soweto

The advice came thick and fast. “You are started too fast.” “NO, You are starting too slowly” “You should carbo load” “Don’t use Ascics running shoes” “Shed 20 kgs”

The recommendations were unremitting.

Then I learnt about a concept called VO2 Max. This is the amount of oxygen that one’s body uses per breath. A test at the Helen Joseph Hospital revealed my problem. Low VO2 Max. At shorter distances, I was able to run at respectable speeds as it was anaerobic. At longer distances I was a failure.

Between Mavis Bank and Tiffendal on the 52km Rhodes Mountain Race

Between Mavis Bank and Tiffendal on the 52km Rhodes Mountain Race

Thoughts of gym at school resurfaced.

This is my plea to the Olympic Committee.

Please introduce a new category especially for me.

The category must encompass the following characteristics: Low VO2 Max, lethargy and genetic ill-ability to run.

Am I not entitled to a Permanent Number for watching so many Comrades on TV?

Am I not entitled to a Permanent Number for watching so many Comrades on TV?

Failing that, please introduce an even easier category where one does not even have to physically participate, called Cheating & Lying.

Lest anybody feels deprived, all the medals must be gold with the inscription FIRST.

The Sochi 2014 Olympic Gold Medal

The Sochi 2014 Olympic Gold Medal


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