2012 Archives

How Olympic 'Blade Runner' Sprints Without Feet

Oscar Pistorius will be the first amputee to compete in the Olympics. Here's a look at the mechanics of how he runs.

Excerpt

The following ran on the July 20, 2012, edition of DiscoveryNews.com. Physiologist Peter Weyend provided expertise for this story.

July 31, 2012

By Sheila Eldred

THE GIST

  • Oscar Pistorius will be the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics.
  • His inclusion in the Olympics has sparked a debate in the scientific community about whether his blades give him an advantage.
  • The future of prosthetics for runners could closely resemble a human leg.

When the start gun goes off for the individual 400 and 4X400 relay at the 2012 London Olympics, double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, the man known as the Blade Runner, will spring out of the blocks with the world's best able-bodied athletes. It marks the first time an amputee will compete in the Olympics.

Pistorius will be wearing carbon-fiber prosthetics designed for sprinting. While the debate over whether his flex-foot Cheetahs makes it harder or easier for him to sprint continues, there's no doubt that the way his body covers 400 meters is different from his competitors....

Researchers Peter Weyand, an exercise physiologist at Southern Methodist University, and Matt Bundle, an assistant professor at the University of Montana, presented their case in a point-counterpoint article in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2009.

The reason the data is so telling, says Weyand, is not just that it shows an advantage; it's that the comparison between Pistorius and able-bodied world class sprinters is off the charts. (Weyand and Bundle released a statement that explains their science, hoping to clear up misconceptions.)

"With the most generous assumptions, he still comes out seven seconds ahead in the 400," Weyand said. "He's a below-average high school runner without those limbs. A lot of people don't want to hear that."

Weyand stresses that he respects and admires Pistorius, but "there's no point in acquiring data if we can't report it accurately."...