Oscar Pistorius of South Africa will be competing in the Olympics in the 400 meter and 4×400 meter relay events for his country. This is notable because of Pistorius’ physical condition, as he was a double amputee of his lower legs at 11 months old. He is known as “The Blade Runner” as he runs on a set of carbon fiber prosthetic blades in pace of feet.
Four years ago, Pistorius was involved in some controversy as he tried to make the Olympics. At first, the rules were amended and he was ruled ineligible by track’s governing body. That was later changed as it was determined he did not have an advantage over other athletes. However, he missed out on qualifying for the last Olympic Games.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times spoke with some doctors at UCLA about Pistorius and whether the blades gave him an advantage over other runners.
After spending time studying Pistorius’ motion, [Dr. Vijay] Gupta conceded he had a “very subtle advantage” in that the curvature of the blades allowed him to remain in longer contact with the track and thus propel himself slightly faster than someone with feet.
“Whoever designed those blades is very smart,” Gupta said. “He can use them to generate more power from the ground.”
Gupta added, however, that there are disadvantages in having an upper body that is attached to a mechanical lower leg.
Professor Reggie Edgerton added “There might be a slight advantage, but it is outweighed by the obvious disadvantage, and I would let him run.”
It’s a fascinating story, and an interesting debate as to whether Pistorius has an advantage running with the blades. As Plaschke notes, he is not a favorite in the event and was added as the final track athlete by South Africa, so his chances of medalling are a longshot. Would he be viewed differently if, as this article from the Sydney Morning Herald suggests, he was a favorite in the event or improved to surpass other competitors. Right now, Pistorius, who is 25, is near prime age for a 400 meter runner. The average age of all medalists in the event since the 1984 Olympics is 24.1 years old. What will happen in four years if he is still improving, as technology improves, and is better at an age when only Michael Johnson and Roger Black medalled since 1984?
For now, though, we can enjoy a story of someone that overcame a disability, and now isn’t a disabled athlete, but an Olympian who represents the drive and determination of the competitive ideal.
[photo via US Presswire]