Is it possible, with a physical handicap, to participate in international sports competitions? [peek glance comment to some assertions made by Cybathlon organizers]

Is Karate for amputees called 'partial arts'? - [link]


It was alleged recently that one required "technical" prostheses in order to "participate in international sports competitions" when having a physical handicap.

Here: [] "Der Cybathlon eröffnet Menschen mit Behinderung die Möglichkeit, an einem internationalen Wettkampf teilzunehmen, was bisher aufgrund der restriktiven Regeln gegenüber dem Einsatz von Technik im internationalen Sport ausgeschlossen war" - The Cybathlon opens up participation in international competitions to people with disabilities, which due to restrictive regulations was so far not possible in international sports. (...) -- Text: Prof. Dr. Robert Riener, ETH Zürich & Uniklinik Balgrist - 04/2013

With this preposterous and arrogant statement, these individuals go too far.

The ultimate currency is respect - and this statement here is quite simply the pure opposite.

This is, superbly politely put, total nonsense. What it really means and is, that goes a lot further. But to give a short overview:

  • The Cybathlon is the last thing that we need in order to open up any possibilities as far as we can see now. There are a few roboticists, admitted, but then what. What do they "open"? Worse, since when did they open anything for arm amputees?
  • The individuals behind the text do not know shit from shinola inasmuch as international sports is concerned. They have no idea about actual regulations in sports inasmuch as participation of handicapped people in international competitions is concerned. That is obvious. Why then write new regulations? If they do not even have an idea about current ones? Is that fundamentally necessary?
  • In fact, they probably know shit about sports and prostheses. Or let us rephrase. What prosthetic arms - model, make, year, motor type, etc. - actually and factually aid and support (rather than hamper), say, freestyle sprint swimming over, say, 50 meters? Was that a rhetorical question?

They may be right about some sports and about some people with some handicaps, at certain occasions. But written as generalization as above, they clearly overstep their boundaries. There are two simple case examples that quite simply prove otherwise, and a number of further illustrative examples, without any attempt to be complete or comprehensive.


Case 1: FINA Masters World Championships 2012

Without any prosthetic limb replacement or fitting whatsoever, and without any particular rule or regulation derived from roboticists or academic researchers whatsoever, I trained* for, qualified* for, and participated in the 2012 FINA World Masters Championships in Riccione, Italy. As anyone that can and does read knows (obviously not the individuals behind the above quoted text), swimming regulations for these competitions that are geared towards non handicapped athletes do explain how to go about disability.

This was my access card to the FINA World Masters Championship 2012 in Riccione, Italy.


I trained* for it, I qualified* for it, I went there, I checked everything out, I signed up, I got validated access, I showed up, I was well prepared*, I went second in my race (always 10 people at once race), and overall in my age category 45-49 I ranked 244th of 254 swimmers over 100m crawl (1:10,21). That was Monday June 11th 2012. The thing is that I have an IPC classified* S9 handicap and in that race event, that was not at all taken into account. In other words, me, with handicap, qualified* for, participated and ranked in this non handicapped World Masters Championship. Even qualifying for it is relatively hard for non disabled swimmers.

Me qualifying* there is just like a non-disabled person qualifying for some super-abled 2,40 m tall carbon fiber skeleton reinforced alien na'avi World Championship (and not just some local garage door soccer match). Normal people don't comprehend. Even the guy who oversees Swiss disabled sports' top teams said he didn't understand why the other handicapped swimmers didn't just go there. Wanna know why? Because you have to be shit fast relative to age and sex and water - and just not even accounting for the handicap. You have to be fast no matter what. Without prosthetic aid.

That's why others don't just go there. People just don't get it.

And 2014? I did qualify* for 50, 100 and 200m freestyle events for the FINA World Masters Championships in Montreal, Canada, August 2014. That is also a non-handicapped-swimmers world championship competition. I am not going because I already know that I am fast at that level.

Case 2: IDM Berlin 2014

There are international sports events where many handicapped people participate. Like, the German Open swimming competition for the disabled. Also for these, luckily, we get by without the advice or opinion of people that lack education and insight, such as the people behind the respectless above quoted text.

My results of the IDM Berlin 2014 (50m pool/ LC / Long Course): 200m Freestyle 02:35,84* (414 P, previously: 02:47,89); 100m Butterfly 01:24,11* (348 P, previously: 1:28,20); 200m Butterfly 03:29,08* (254 P, previously: 03:32,13); 50m Breast 00:39,87* (389 P, previously: 00:40,53); 100m Breast 01:27,08* (394 P, previously: 1:28,46); 50m Freestyle 00:31,38* (434 P, previously: 00:31,41). 100m Freestyle 1:10,91 (previously: 1:10,73); 50m Butterfly 0:37,07* (previously: 0:37,59). - * new personal bests.

And it did not quite turn out as expected. I could not possibly have gone faster on the 100 freestyle, but I still felt energies available for the fly even at the end of a greatly boosted sprint as last event of four successful race days.

Qualifying times:

  • 200 m Freistil 02:35,84 (FINA Masters World Championships Montreal 2014 qualifying time 02:38)
  • 100 m Freistil 01:10,91(FINA Masters World Championships Montreal 2014 qualifying time 01:11,50)
  • 50 m Freistil 00:31,38 (FINA Masters World Championships Montreal 2014 qualifying time 00:32,00)

Not bad for an IPC S9/SM9/SB9 qualifying for non handicapped competitions at that level.

* obviously I train in clubs, and there are trainers and team mates. I do owe it to many of them that I could achieve these results.

Cases 3 through N

Other people with handicap managed to participate in competitive sports - most notably and to some readers totally surprisingly without prior allowance, permission, invitation or support of anyone involved in the Cybathlon thing.

Among countless others:

  • Nick Newell (international competitions) (no prosthesis used)
  • Kyle Maynard (national competitions, "GNC’s World’s Strongest Teen", 2004 ESPY Award winner, no international competitions) (quadruple amputee, no prostheses used)
  • Natalia Partyka (international competitions) (no prosthesis used)
  • Natalie du Toit (international competitions) (no prosthesis used)



Even Engadget [link] and BBC [link] regurgitate the 'athlete' assumption about people that basically try to button or zip close a jacket or so. Where are critical journalists when we need them? See, athlete usually is a word reserved for "sports" [link]. For that, you want to be fit, and you want to endure. Here, athlete is not the personality required. Au contraire; when I suggested that carrying shopping baskets would be a relevant ADL (activity of daily living) sufficiently problematic for prosthetic arm wearers, Professor Riener opposed saying that physical fitness was not to be tested.

Are all basket carrying shoppers now 'super athletes' given that these 'athletes' cannot be challenged to the very simplest of daily activities?

Or is it that the usual short comings of myoelectric arms - THEIR SOCKETS! - has to be painfully hidden from the general public? And why is that? Is that fair sports - to hide highly relevant research and development issues?

As we have already seen, any real sports connotation could not be further away to begin with! So, let us correct this: this prosthetic arm "race" is **not** a sports competition. It is far more a stamp collectors' or maybe glove knitting type of competition. For lack of better analogies, we should properly call the mastering of prosthetic arm control a puppeteers' performance.

So, the Cybathlon really boils down to a puppet master conference.


Outlook and perspective

Now, if you would build prosthetic arms with a similar or better technical and overall emphasis, such as the overall emphasis and effort that I put on, say, swimming, we would not try to close a zipper, or cut up and eat meat or sausage, in some ill fated attempt to abuse the SHAP [link] for "bionic" hand "performance" "testing" [link] in a "Cybathlon 2016" that just got downgraded from Hallenstadion to Kloten.

If the "Cybathlon" individuals would take their fingers out, literally, we would try to play musical instruments with ten fingers, and we would try to compete in rock climbing at difficulty levels at or over the level of non handicapped people. And stuff like that.

As long as these individuals that try to scramble together the Cybathlon have no actual results that are worth testing, they

  • can improve cooperation with business partners by having them at least correct their basic research premises and texts,
  • should definitely allow non-disabled pilots to navigate their obstacle course because maybe, they want to learn first how it can be done by trying it out, and at least check the terrain themselves, for what is realistic and real, before crying "wolf"... ,
  • and they really should cut down the overly weird announcements such as above

Admitted, the few handicapped athletes of us that compete in international competitions of non-disabled people do so as an extraordinary achievement whereas mostly handicapped athletes cannot compete because they simply lack performance and ability to match non handicapped competition entry criteria. Full stop. I have great results for breast stroke and butterfly, but I am not fulfilling the FINA World Masters Championship qualifying times there.

Really we lack athletes that have a disability and that also want to and do compete, also within the world of disabled sports. That is a fact. What is a clear impediment to getting more disabled swimmers to train is the way we are stared at and treated in public pools. If the individuals that type up the above citation, if these people really would want to improve anything there, that would be great. But to get the public to behave towards amputees, do we really believe that these listed authors - Prof. Robert Riener, ETHZ and Balgrist - are up for the job? Aren't they the ones stating that they wanted full live video coverage of all amputees struggling across their "Cybathlon" obstacle course? More intense staring rather than chilling about that aspect? Is there a crash course for empathy?

So, not the right people doing not the right thing to actually get going what should get going - more people with handicaps competing in sports.

But, good you came here all the same. We educate you about international competitions, and about sports.


Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: - Is it possible, with a physical handicap, to participate in international sports competitions? [peek glance comment to some assertions made by Cybathlon organizers]; published 26/05/2014, 05:45; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1656620555, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{ - Is it possible, with a physical handicap, to participate in international sports competitions? [peek glance comment to some assertions made by Cybathlon organizers]}}, month = {May}, year = {2014}, url = {} }