RICE (US)—Does Oscar Pistorius, the South African bilateral amputee nicknamed Blade Runner, have a competitive advantage over able-bodied athletes? Newly released findings do not settle the question, but do reveal more details about the sprinter’s physiology.
The findings, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, come from experiments conducted at Rice University’s Locomotion Laboratory by a team of experts in biomechanics and physiology. Some of their previously confidential findings were presented to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in May 2008.
The new report shows that Pistorius’ physiology (energy cost and fatigability) is generally similar to that of intact-limb athletes, but his sprint running mechanics are markedly dissimilar. At top speed, he exerts considerably less force on the ground in relation to his body weight than intact-limb runners, and his foot is in contact with the ground 14 percent longer on each sprinting step. The researchers also found at top speed Pistorius spends 34 percent less time in the air between steps and takes 21 percent less time to reposition (swing) his legs between steps.
A portion of the team’s findings had been presented at the CAS to appeal the eligibility ban that had been imposed on Pistorius by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) barring him from sanctioned competitions, including the Olympics and World Championships.
The IAAF had claimed that the Cheetah Flex-Foot prostheses (J-shaped, high-performance prostheses used for running) worn by Pistorius give him an advantage over able-bodied runners.
On appeal, the CAS concluded that the IAAF failed to prove that the biomechanical effects of the Cheetah prostheses give Pistorius an advantage over other athletes not using the prostheses. The ruling made Pistorius eligible to compete in 2008 Olympic qualifiers, although the sprinter did not make the South African team.
Peter Weyand, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at Southern Methodist University, says disclosing the findings is in the best interests of Oscar Pistorius, other track athletes, and the sport. “The controversy raised by Oscar’s inspiring performances presents a pivotal case for the future regulation of prosthetic and other technology in organized athletics. Accordingly, disseminating all the available facts is essential. I am relieved that all of our data are now available, particularly the mechanical data that are most relevant to the controversy and which were not part of the CAS hearing.”
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