Hardships Single-Leg Amputee Runners Face

By Vicki Michaelis

Comparing Olympic hopeful sprinter Oscar Pistorius, a double-leg amputee, to ultrarunner Amy Palmiero-Winters, a single-leg amputee, is impossible, says the co-author of a study that found Pistorius' light and springy prosthetics enhanced sprint speeds by 15%-30%.

"I can't think of any plausible reason she would be advantaged," Southern Methodist University associate professor Peter Weyand says. "I can think of lots of reasons why she would not be."

Pistorius' crescent-shaped, carbon-fiber prosthetics, which are half the weight of biological limbs, help him reposition his legs more quickly, Weyand and the University of Wyoming's Matthew Bundle determined.

Palmiero-Winters uses a similar prosthetic but because of the slower speeds over greater distances, as well as the asymmetry that having one intact leg and one prosthetic leg creates her situation presents "a very different scientific consideration," Weyand says.

Scientists studying single-leg amputee sprinters have found they do not have an advantage over able-bodied sprinters.

Weyand also notes that Palmiero-Winters has less muscle than able-bodied runners to provide fuel in a long race. "I ran before I lost my leg," she says. "Is it easier now? No. Not even close." 

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Read more about Peter Weyand.

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