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Does Double-Amputee Oscar Pistorius Have an Unfair Advantage at the 2012 Olympic Games?


The following story ran on the July 23, 2012, edition of Physiologist Peter Weyand provided expertise for this story.

August 1, 2012

By Rose Eveleth

Runners who've faced off against Oscar Pistorius say they know when the South African is closing in on them from behind. They hear a distinctive clicking noise growing louder, like a pair of scissors slicing through the air—the sound of Pistorius's Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetic legs.
It's those long, J-shaped, carbon-fiber lower legs—and the world-class race times that come with them—that have some people asking an unpopular question: Does Pistorius, the man who has overcome so much to be the first double amputee to run at an Olympic level, have an unfair advantage? Scientists are becoming entwined in a debate over whether Pistorius should be allowed to compete in the 2012 London Games....

The scientific team included Peter Weyand, a physiologist at Southern Methodist University who had the treadmills needed to measure the forces involved in sprinting. Rodger Kram, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was a track and field fan who studied biomechanics. Hugh Herr, a double amputee himself, was a renowned biophysicist. The trio, and other experts, measured Pistorius's oxygen consumption, his leg movements, the forces he exerted on the ground and his endurance. They also looked at leg-repositioning time—the amount of time it takes Pistorius to swing his leg from the back to the front....

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