As 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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