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Local Paralympic world record holder defends ‘Blade Runner’ Olympic bid

oscarWith the Olympics just a week
away, the controversy is raging over a South African
double amputee who qualified for the games as a sprinter
despite running on flexible, carbon-fiber bladed
prosthetics.

Critics argue the artificial limbs give Oscar
Pistorius, dubbed the ‘Blade Runner’, an unfair advantage.
It’s an issue that hits close to home for Edmonds native
Tony Volpentest, a man born without hands or feet who
ran track in
high
school and in the Paralympics on an earlier version of
athletic prosthetics in the 90’s.

In an interview with the Dori Monson Show, Volpentest
defended Pistorius’ Olympic bid and officials who
determined it was fair for him to compete against other
“normal” athletes.

“I think that we have to give Oscar the benefit of the
doubt and there’s how many other thousands of us that have
done this before that aren’t running the times that
Oscar’s running,” Volpentest said.

The graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School and former
Paralympic world record holder in the 100 and 200 meter
sprints argues until science actually proves a tangible
advantage, the rare athletes like Pistorius should have
every opportunity to pursue their dreams like anyone else.

“The only way to answer it is if you take an athlete
already at the Olympic level and unfortunately has some
sort of traumatic accident and then six months to a year
later comes back and starts competing again,” he says.

But there’s plenty of disagreement. Some researchers
argue the blades make Pistorius more efficient, and the
prosthetics eliminate the potential for injury to foot and
leg muscles. Other critics say it also raises serious
ethical issues as well.

volpentest

(Edmonds native Tony Volpentest competes in a
Paralympic event-undated image courtesy Tony Volpentest)

Monson says while he has always been extremely inspired
by Volpentest ever since he first learned of his
achievements overcoming adversity, allowing the
prosthetics feels wrong.

“Not to disparage Pastorius or you, but as I look at
it,
we all have to play the hand we’re dealt. And I would not
be able to take steroids to build up my body to make
myself a more elite athlete. To me that’s where it gets
into this weird slippery slope,” Monson tells Volpentest
in
the interview.

Monson suggests at the very least, the spring-like
effect of the prosthetics could be limited in much the
same way that engineers have done the same for
professional golf clubs to prevent an unfair advantage.
But Volpentest counters that’s not necessary unless
there’s a surge of athletes running record times, rather
than an exceptional athlete like Pistorius.

Volpentest shares his inspirational story in the new
memoir ‘Fastest Man In the World’. He’ll be
inducted into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame in
September.

-Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com

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