Articles > Oscar Pistorius: Amputee Sprinter Runs Differently

Oscar Pistorius: Amputee Sprinter Runs Differently

August 2009 — A team of experts in
biomechanics and physiology that conducted experiments on Oscar
Pistorius, the South African bilateral amputee track athlete, have just
published their findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Some of their previously confidential findings were presented to the
Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland in May of
2008. Other findings are now being released for the first time.

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

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.

The appeal was successfully presented on behalf of Pistorius by the
international law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf, who took the case on a
pro-bono basis. 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 authors of the study are Peter Weyand of Southern Methodist
University, Matthew Bundle of the University of Wyoming, Craig McGowan
of the University of Texas at Austin, Alena Grabowski and Hugh Herr of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mary Beth Brown of Georgia
Institute of Technology and Rodger Kram of the University of Colorado
at Boulder. None of the authors received compensation for the research
or work on behalf of the CAS hearing. The group agreed to conduct the
experiments with the understanding that they would be able to publish
their scientific findings after the CAS ruling.

The experiments were conducted at the Locomotion Laboratory of Rice University in Houston, Texas.

The scientific team compared Oscar Pistorius to track athletes with intact limbs to evaluate his:

  • Energy cost of running
  • Fatigue resistance
  • Sprinting mechanics

The team concluded that:

  • Pistorius’ energy cost of running is similar to that of
    accomplished male distance runners, but 17% lower than that of
    performance-matched male sprinters.
  • Pistorius’ ability to hold his speed over longer sprint races is identical to that of intact-limb athletes.
  • Pistorius sprinting mechanics are markedly dissimilar to intact-limb track athletes.

At top speed:

  • He exerts considerably less force on the ground in relation to his body weight than intact-limb runners.
  • His foot is in contact with the ground 14% longer on each sprinting step
  • He spends 34% less time in the air between steps
  • He takes 21% less time to reposition (swing) his legs between steps.

In summary, the team concluded that Pistorius’ physiology (energy
cost and fatigability) is generally similar to that of intact-limb
athletes, but his sprint running mechanics are markedly dissimilar.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Peter Weyand, indicated "I am
pleased that we can now completely disclose our results because our
study includes critical new data not presented in the CAS eligibility
hearing. In addition to informing an interested public, full disclosure
is in the best interests of Oscar Pistorius, other track athletes and
the sport of Track and Field. 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."

Weyand is an Associate Professor in Department of Applied Physiology
and Wellness at the Simmons School of Education and Human Development
at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.


Source : Southern Methodist University


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