Oscar Pistorius Cleared for Competition

Posted by Filed Under: Science and Research

olympic ringsAs if we needed another reason to be intrigued by the track and field events leading up to, and culminating at, this summer’s Beijing Olympics, we might now have one. If he can qualify for the South African team, Oscar Pistorius, a bilateral amputee and Paralympic track star, will be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes in Beijing.

In January, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that the Össur Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetics Oscar Pistorius uses give him an unfair advantage in the 400 meters. The said advantage went against the IAAF’s rule 144.2 (e), which prohibits the “use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.” Therefore, he was ineligible to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions against able-bodied opponents, including this summer’s Beijing Olympics.

The IAAF based its decision on results from a 2-day German study conducted last November where Oscar Pistorius’ running mechanics were analyzed and compared to those of 5 able-bodied athletes. According to an IAAF news release, the study showed that Oscar Pistorius was able to run at the same speed using 25% less energy than the able-bodied athletes, and that the use of the prosthetics conferred mechanical advantages.

Unsatisfied with the IAAF’s decision, Oscar Pistorius appealed to the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland and submitted himself to a new study. The information gathered during this new study, performed at Rice University’s Locomotion Laboratory by researchers in biomechanics and physiology from multiple institutions, does not support the original findings in the German study and suggests that it was “fundamentally flawed.”

After reviewing this new evidence, last month the CAS panel upheld his appeal and stated that the earlier IAAF ruling was not based on sufficient evidence. So until it can be fully shown that the Cheetah prosthetics do confer metabolic and mechanical advantages, Oscar Pistorius is eligible to compete in able-bodied competitions. He will attempt to qualify for the South African Olympic team in July.

Though this decision applies only to Oscar Pistorius and these specific prosthetics, it and the events to unfold over the summer could change the face of sporting events in the future. Agree or disagree with the fairness of it all, it’s now time to watch and wait to see what, if anything, will happen. Or at least, that is, until more evidence comes along.

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About Nora

I am a native Californian currently settled and running my way bit by bit around the South East of England. Besides running, my training activities include biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, and tap dancing in place while in line at the grocery store. I am addicted to photography and run most races with my camera in hand, just in case.

  1. Duff on June 11th at 5:48 am

    Don’t get me wrong. We are all proud of the guy for overcoming adversity and the like. He took a big disadvantage and turned into something fantastic like running. I wish him the best but rules are rules.
    The motion of the prosthetics are that of a cat and not a human. We have the motion type but it is relegated to our foot to ankle not the entire leg. This is unfair to all involved. If we are to continue down the path where will it end. Athletes could easily move toward bionics to gain the advantage. Steroids and other doping measures are bad enough. We will enter the era of the *. We would have world records for 2 prostheses, 1, unpowered and power assisted, hydraulic, above the knee, below, etc. and of course the old standby that could endure for decades or centuries, legs.
    Maybe if I had prosthetic I would not be suffering from the knee and hip injury that has sidelined me for the past month. I would be able to run more marathons with less recovery time. (BTW, running two with two weeks rest is a bad idea) I could wave goodbye to those horrible ice baths. My reliance on Advil would subside. I will have to think about it.
    On another note. It would be worthwhile to add wheely and/or hand bike divisions to the Olympic marathon. We have biking, sailing, and horse dressage/jumping why not add that. It would be worthwhile event that could bring more the public into the long distance events. On that theme, the dog obstacle course thing would be fantastic. The handler/trainer gets as much of a workout during those events as the dog. Just a thought.

    Duff’s last blog post..The Road to Cleveland: What is an extra hour?

  2. Nora on June 12th at 12:27 am

    Hi Duff, I think each person is entitled to their own thoughts. This is a tricky issue with valid arguments for both sides, and I certainly won’t get into a debate on the likelihood or absurdness of a world where people would consider amputating parts of their bodies to win a race, or run without pain (which I think is an incorrect assumption, anyway).

    But, I’d just like to say be good to yourself. Respect your body, man. Know its capabilities and its limits to be healthy and fit. It’s the only one you’ve got, and for that you should be thankful.

  3. Ploddingalong on June 12th at 1:26 am

    As a scientist I’m always intrigued when someone creative comes along and pushes the boundaries of a sport (Cyclist Graeme Obree is an all time hero of mine). Oscar has certainly picked up my interest in track racing again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate of performance enhancing drugs, but if something like this comes along which enables him to be included in a sport without gaining any obvious advantage then all power to him.
    I haven’t looked at any of the scientific studies in detail but definitely think the burden of proof should be on the sporting bodies that any advantage is given.
    I feel that in this case the prosthetic is an extentsion of the running shoe. Looks like every athlete gets to choose their own shoe and I don’t think all the shoe manufacturers would like us to think that they all perform the same …..
    So my argument today is that if the scientists can find no unfair advantage let him run with everyone else ….if he’s not allowed to run make sure that all the athletes run in identical pairs of shoes or even preferably bare feet.
    Can’t wait for the games to begin!!

  4. Constantine on June 12th at 5:29 am

    Lets be real here, the prosthetics is just another legal performance enhancing device.

    Constantine’s last blog post..?Benefits? of Viagra in Running

  5. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on June 12th at 7:58 am

    Ploddingalong, I don’t think that you can make the comparison between prosthetics and running shoes. USATF Rule 143.3(a) states:

    “A competitor may compete in bare feet or with footwear on one or both feet. The purpose of shoes for competition is to give protection and stability to the feet and a firm grip of the ground. Such shoes, however, must not be constructed so as to give the competitor any unfair additional assistance, including the incorporation of any technology which will give the wearer any unfair advantage, such as a spring or similar device. A shoe strap over the instep is permissible.”

    The IAAF has a similar rule, although I believe (but haven’t verified) that they took out the language pertaining to springs and such.

    The relevant part of the rule, however, is that shoes may be used in competetion for the purpose of giving protection and stability to the feet and a firm grip of the ground – which is not the same thing as using prosthetics. Oscar has no feet, and as such has no need for protection or stability of his feet. And as far as I am aware, there has been no outcry over the bottoms of his prosthetics which provide his grip on the ground.

    This isn’t to say that he should or shouldn’t be allowed to compete. I just wanted to show that comparing different shoes to his prosthetics is not a fair comparison.

  6. Duff on June 12th at 9:26 am

    Nora, I agree with you. It is absurd to think we could reach the point where people might make that an option. We do live in an absurd world, though, and if you can think of the worse thing to happen someone can still surprise you. I know the will to compete and win is great but we have athletes today doping just when they know the chance of getting caught and disgraced (except baseball 😛 ) are nearly 100%. Yet they continue to do it.
    The most scrutinized event in the world, the Tour de France has huge penalties and suspect testing mechanisms yet people still actually try to beat the system. I feel that one day my Advil will be banned then I am in real trouble. Even though three on a bad day is my max but I would still take them to help with the little pains that spring up. No pun intended.
    It may be the sci-fi fan in me that dreams up these things. It wasn’t that long ago that (thick) glasses were the only way to correct vision problems. Then we got these real thin films that we put directly on our eyes to help that out. Contacts aren’t any better than glasses and you have to poke your eyes to get them in and out yet people use them so as not to wear glasses. Now they use lasers to correct the eye to appeal to vanity and convenience. I am generalizing a little. BTW, I just can’t see putting a laser to my eye.
    Just so we are clear. Advil, a knee brace, rest, slowing down, massages, etc. Those are the things I plan on using to keep me running in the future when I need help. I hope this guy gets a chance to compete and I hope he does well. But what does happen if he does smoke the competition and breaks a record, world or otherwise? I just wonder and am afraid. Remember that in the future we shall be run by “Darn Dirty Apes” I saw it in a movie once. 🙂

    Duff’s last blog post..The Tour De Cleveland: Cleveland Marathon Race Report