Object 63

Javelin

2040, Earth

At 2.67 metres long, and composed of 806 grammes of metal and composites, this object is slim, sharp and deadly. Designed originally as a ranged weapon, it would be recognisable to humans even 400,000 years ago. It is, of course, a javelin.

This javelin was used by Csaba Németh of Hungary in his world-record-breaking 103.82 metre throw during the 2040 Pyongyang Olympics. It was an extraordinary achievement, made even more so by the fact that it beat the Paralympic T62-LE (limited enhancements) category record. For a brief moment, all eyes were on the baseline humans. "I think Németh can give the Paralympians a run for their money!" exclaimed one sports commentator.

But as the Olympic Games continued and there were no further upsets, attention returned to the upcoming Paralympic Games and all the thrills it promised. "Let's face it," said the same commentator, changing her mind a week later, "there's no way that baselines can beat the enhanced. The numbers just don't add up, biomechanically speaking. Csaba Németh was exceptional, and that's the point: he was an exception to the rule."

How did the Olympics — once the biggest sporting event in the world — become a mere sideshow to the technologically enhanced Paralympics?

The shift began in 2020, when the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) staged a technology demonstration jointly sponsored by EKDA GmbH and NeuroDynamics. Fifty former Paralympians competed in six rounds of athletics and swimming, each equipped with the most modern prostheses of the time; in the 100-metre sprint, athletes wearing powered exoskeletons squared off against those with carbon-fibre blades and accelerated neural pathways.

The demonstration was a huge success. People had never before seen such a direct combination of technology and raw human willpower outside of a war, and the sponsors were delighted by the viewing figures. Their interest, of course, lay in marketing their expensive medical and lifestyle devices to the all-important Gen-X and Millennial markets, who were beginning to worry about their mobility and independence as they grew older.

In 2024, the exhibition event returned with seven headline sponsors, ten times the advertising money, two-hundred former Paralympians, and triple the audience figures. Recognising that its popularity threatened to eclipse that of the Paralympics itself, and perhaps responding to murky suggestions that the sponsors might create their own 'Paralympic Tech Games', IPC President Jonnie McIntosh struck a deal that saw a brand new 'Enhanced' classification added to sports from 2032 onwards, following a trial run during the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympics.

Their future assured, the 'Enhanced Games' (as everyone called them) expanded rapidly. Paralympians flocked to the new classification in droves, attracted by the lure of money and fame. Just as Air Racing, Formula One, and Crossball had excited the public with constant technological advances, the Enhanced Games provided a non-stop series of marvels, with dozens of world records being toppled every four years.

The Olympics, in the meantime, languished. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had long taken a hard line against doping, and they saw prosthetic enhancements in the same way: as an unsporting and dangerous corruption of the purity and ‘level playing-field’ of the competition. While many respected the IOC’s stance, the fact remained that baseline human physical performance was reaching its asymptotic limit. There's only so fast, high, and far that normal humans can reach, and lofty ideals notwithstanding, that hurt the Olympics’ popularity and funding. National sports federations began diverting their training budgets away from the Olympics and towards the Enhanced Games, often as a result of political pressure; after all, what better way was there to demonstrate your nation's technological prowess than in the field of physical competition?

Some baseline athletes began their own breakaway events as a protest against the Olympics' supposedly antiquated traditions, but none lasted more than a decade. At the same time, cheating scandals in the Olympics saw athletes attempting to use modified Enhanced Games augments and prosthetics to boost their performance. In response, the IOC instituted a thorough — some might say draconian — testing regime that strictly prohibited athletes from using any enhancements or augments at any point during their training.

Over time, this effectively barred baseline Olympic athletes from being a normal part of society. By the 40s and 50s, public attitudes towards mimic scripts, lenses, augments, and neural laces had relaxed, and the notion that using these things would somehow constitute 'cheating' seemed outrageous. Baseline non-augmented humans were becoming the minority; the Paralympians were more representative of the real world, a world in which everyone was becoming enhanced in some small or large way.

The Enhanced Games had their own problems, though. During the 2032 Games, four athletes were seriously injured during the basketball event due to excessively high velocities, and in the 2036 Durban Games, eight athletes using an experimental Liang lace in the new 'Highly Enhanced' classification suffered irreparable brain damage as their retroviral augments went awry. New safety rules were introduced, and pointed questions were asked about the purpose and limits of sporting enhancement.

All of this made Németh's world record achievement at the 2040 Pyongyang Olympics all the more extraordinary, with people talking about the 'triumph of the human spirit' that the baseline Olympics represented — yet it wasn't hard to detect a patronising tone in such remarks. Sure enough, in 2044, the 'Limited Enhancement' classification asserted its dominance when Andreas Felke of Germany smashed the 'baseline' world record by more than two metres, thanks to a NeuroDynamics balance/co-ordination cerebellum package.

Who, exactly, was responsible for that new world record, though? Was it Felke the athlete, or was it the technology and money provided by NeuroDynamics? While we can't and shouldn't take anything away from Felke's effort, in truth, there was no way he could have beaten the competition without the best technology and the financial support of his corporate sponsors.

It was a far cry from the original Olympics. But then again, the enhanced were a far cry from the original humans.