Prosthetics at the Olympics

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oscar Pistorius Oscar Pistorius (Karva Javi/flickr)

Alena Grabowski, a researcher at the University of Colorado and the Department of Veterans Affairs, talks about the South African runner Oscar Pistorius (the Blade Runner), who will be competing in the Olympics using prosthetic legs—and what his participation means for the Olympics, sports and prosthetics.

How does Pistorius run? Check out the video below.


Alena Grabowski

Comments [20]


Hi Tom-
There is only one Oscar, so you're correct about having only one person to compare that is a bilateral amputee; however, we have conducted additional studies on 7 more Paralympic sprinters to confirm our findings on Oscar. See these:
And there are more to come.

Jul. 18 2012 09:32 AM
tom LI

So the first test/experiment says, Nope, he has an advantage. Next test refutes the first and that's the whole story? Sounds like bad science...based on a very small number of test subjects. How many elite, Olympic quality athletes are there to test...?

Where are all the other factors? Like an accident in the Athletes Village that injures the calf, etc...he walks off with a dent/scratch, the legged athlete cant race...!

This is PC BS.

Jul. 17 2012 06:04 PM

I'd like to address some of the comments:
1. Though it may seem logical that an athlete without the flesh and bone below the knee would incur fewer musculoskeletal injuries, this is not true. Paralympic athletes have a much greater risk of injury. For example, Oscar has a greater risk of injury to his hamstrings, one of the most common injuries among sprinters.
2. Allowing for the difficulties inherent in accelerating while using prostheses, Oscar's pacing strategy is now quite similar to able-bodied athletes.
3. At best, the carbon-fiber material of the prostheses that Oscar uses return approximately 92% of the energy stored. The Achilles tendon returns approximately 93-95% of the energy stored.
4. Though running depends on elastic energy storage and return, sprinting depends on maximizing force; it depends on power.
5. The results of the German study are flawed. Unfortunately, there is no gold standard way to measure metabolic energy during sprinting. The only accepted method to quantify metabolic energy is to measure it during sub-maximal activity when all of the energy used is due to oxidative metabolism.
6. We measured Oscar's rate of fatigue and it was the same as all other athletes.

Jul. 17 2012 02:16 PM
bob gaitner

take a look at these passive devices

Jul. 17 2012 11:54 AM
The Truth from Becky

Create a new category. He should compete against those with the same advantages or disadvantages abilities or disabilities.

Jul. 17 2012 11:47 AM
john from office

Brian is having a hard time saying Handicap or Handicaped or ablebodied, trying to find the least offensive label. interesting

Jul. 17 2012 11:47 AM

This is a great argument for a new series of events called Technolympics.
This does not seem to be an appropriate fit.
Were the Olympics were originally a nude competition?

Jul. 17 2012 11:45 AM
The Truth from Becky

100% advantage - can he get a charlie horse in the calf?

Jul. 17 2012 11:45 AM
Erin from Vermont

Re: advantage - What about Oscar's speed patterns. I've learned that a typically abled runner starts fast and slows over the course of a spring, while Oscar starts slow and speeds up (or vice versa). Is this not the case and would it effect advantage?

Jul. 17 2012 11:43 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

An ATHLETIC gathering caller; we have the UN for just meeting....

Jul. 17 2012 11:42 AM
Tim from NJ

I thought the issue was that the blade stored energy more efficiently than the human leg - giving him an advantage.

Jul. 17 2012 11:42 AM

hmmm....The prosthetic's elasticity does NOTHING to enhance his performance? Really? Are there some versions that give him more 'spring' than others even though 'passive' - i.e. not driven.

Jul. 17 2012 11:41 AM
John from nyc

If this is allowed, at what point do we draw the line in terms of prosthetics?

He should be disallowed - or a new category created.

Jul. 17 2012 11:41 AM

I wish I had those prosthetic legs! If I had the money, I'd pay to get amputated from the knees down and had those instead!

Jul. 17 2012 11:41 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Wait, was Mr. Pistorius born w/out fibulas (the much smaller bone in the lower leg) or tibias (the main bone there)? It doesn't seem as if missing fibulas would warrant amputation.

I'm glad prosthetic science has advanced to the point that in some cases it can enable amputees to compete w/athletes who have their original limbs! But I wonder what quality of prosthetics are available to most people who need them.

Jul. 17 2012 11:40 AM
Jason from Queens

What about the precedent it sets?

Jul. 17 2012 11:40 AM
John A

He's optimised to a track, wheras a human is adaptable to much more, EG mountainclimbing. So its unfair, but my vote is to star (*) his records and move on.

Jul. 17 2012 11:39 AM
El from Upper East Side

I think the German study makes more sense because sprinting is what he will be doing when he is running in the Olympics.

Jul. 17 2012 11:39 AM
MC from Manhattan

unless the device has the exact same technical strengths and weaknesses as flesh and bone ... its an advantage period....
you also have to take into account the device's ability to take more punishment whilst requiring no resources to maintain like a real foot ankle and other bio parts do....

Jul. 17 2012 11:38 AM
Jenna from Hamilton Heights

Pistorius is an amazing athlete, and I am amazed by his accomplishments.
However, I am against him running in the Olympics. Regardless of what scientists say, it is just NOT the same.
I truly with Pistorius the best, but I think the IOC made a mistake here, and if he wins, I am sure the able body athletes will appeal the decision.

Jul. 17 2012 11:38 AM

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