Oscar Pistorius should be allowed to run. It’s an interesting human rights story, and thus you can’t deny his rights if he makes the IAAF “A” Qualifying standard. Rules are rules.
But let it be known, he does has some disadvantages, and a lot of advantages.
There comes an optimal point where one will have an advantage comparing the two categories. Take a look at a wheelchair athlete in the 100 meter sprint and the Boston marathon. It’s clear the 100m able bodied sprinter will win over a wheelchair, mostly because of the start. But in a marathon, with a net downhill gain, the wheelchair will win hands down. Remember the 1500m Wheelchair Race in Osaka 2007? The winning time was 3:26.30, oh-so-close to Hicham El Guerrouj’s 3:26.00 WR.
I think the first argument people will point out is Pistorius’ physique, especially his upper body. You would never guess he was a 45.07 runner with his physique. (But damn, he looks good in a business suit!)
Now, we know Oscar Pistorius has been given bad lane draws at recent big meets. Usually Lane 1 but sometimes Lane 8.
His PB for 100 meters is 10.91, which ironically is the same as mine! But I could never crack 48. Let alone 45.
Prior to Lignano, Pistorius had never run under 45.61. In fact 2 days prior, he ran 46.65. Then, boom, a great lane draw in Lignano (cudos to race organizers for giving him a preferred lane) and now he runs 45.07 with the right competition.
Advantage or Disadvantage?
He does have a disadvantage, which is his start. He can’t accelerate as fast as shown in his 10.91 100m PB. Thus he is forced to run negative or even splits, and you can see that clearly in the race where he gets passed initially by the inside runners. You never saw that with the Lane 1 races, obviously.
But one of the controversies, which is either an advantage or disadvantage is, does his artificial legs give him extra bounce (or whip) and increase his stride length? I don’t know for sure, I can’t answer that.
But what about advantages? I can name a few:
- He weighs less overall. I feel running the 400m is all about running economy. I am told the carbon fiber Cheetahs are about half the weight (approximately 6.5 pounds) of an able-bodied sprinter’s lower leg
- He has a greater stride rate than the top 100m sprinters (they say ~15%)
- His calves will never fatigue (though we know it’s the hips and posterior chain that are usually the first to suffer Lactate fatigue in a 400 meters) but calf muscles, both eccentric and concentric actions, DO have an effect on the push off, stabilization and stride, hence possible Achilles tendon problems.
- He will never have an Achilles tendon problem.
- His ankles are stiffer, never tire, thus a longer ground contact time, which means more force can be applied to the ground. More force means a greater stride length. He will cover ground faster.
- You can’t argue that carbon fiber and titanium materials has changed the impact of sports for tennis rackets, golf clubs, and even hockey sticks. Stonger, lighter materials do increase performance.
If he runs 46 low in the opening rounds and get eliminated, the IAAF will breathe a sigh of relief. If he runs 44.80 and wins a bronze, there will be talk, trust me. If he runs 43.12 and breaks the WR, then all hell will break loose.
I think there is a cross over point where they will be equal. For example, we know it’s somewhere between the 100 meters and the marathon for wheelchair athletes. Unfortunately, the sample pool for double amputees running elite sprints is extremely small.
So, should he run at the World Championships? Yes.
Does he have an advantage over able bodied athletes? Yes.
Good luck to Oscar Pistorius, and good luck to the IAAF bureaucrats if he wins or medals.