Last Updated on March 8, 2013 by Jimson Lee
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.
I agree with author. But one thing – What if in some close future scientists will create special legs for disabled people, that will be full subsitution for human legs? With no visible disadvantages. Those people will be some kind of cyborgs.
I am absolutely for Oscar Pistorius, he is an example of human willpower, i wish him win a medal in Daegu. But IAAF must look in future also.
Jimson Lee says
The thing is, when he was running 46 or 47 back in 2008, those times were “aligned” with the normal human physiology of sprinting. As he runs faster, more people are going to say that he has an advantage and we are not on a level playing field. If he makes the finals, then he will bump another athlete, and we all know in Europe, your entry and lane draw (and $$$$) after the WC (Zurich, Brussles) is based on your WC performance.
Jimson Lee says
SIDENOTE: just for fun, the Outdoor 500m WR (or World Best) is 60.08 set by Donato Sabia of Italy back in 1984. Do you think Oscar can break that WR? Can he continue his pace for another 100 meters in 15 seconds?
Jimson Lee says
For those who are curious, here are his WR set by his season bests, with the exception of 2009:
2008 – 46.25
2009 – 47.07 (bad year?)
2010 – 46.02
2011 – 45.07
From one side he has such a disadvantage, that i wouldn’t wish anybody :) but from the other, if IAAF proved he has an advantage, he shouldn’t compete.
The same thing ,i guess , with Kenian athletes, who has such high level of natural Hemoglobin, that others has to take EPO to even reach that level :)
I think this is a situation where no one wants to point out the Pink Elephant in the room because it’s just better to just embrace the elephant. Because we all know it’s an advantage, but the story is just so powerful and inspiring that many people just don’t care.
Oscar had to get his legs amputated when he was a child, for most people that would be the death sentence for their athletic dreams. But he’s on the verge of making an OLYMPIC team in spite of it.
Now even the scientists (who were probably victims of the usual disease of “We think we’re experts about track and field, it’s just running even though we have no direct experience with the sport” ) that defended him are realizing that his blades give him an advantage.
It’s the basic physics of running, the blades are an advantage. My lower legs get tired, they don’t pop off the ground, they don’t make it easier for my upper legs.
But you know what, I kind of don’t care, and I say this coming from someone with biomechanical deficiencies in my right foot that cause me me to LOSE time with every second compared to my left, not to mention scores of issues that had me feeling like my right foot was a cement block from age 21 to 33…
Part of me says it’s not fair and he shouldn’t be running, I mean it’s an advantage and if athletes are getting banned for PEDs that don’t even help, are pain killers, etc, then why is Oscar allowed?
But the other part?
I wanted to run a certain time in college, and I never got to try because of my foot and it’s multitude of issues..
…but then I heard about Oscar, and it was right around the time my foot started to adjust and get a bit better, I wasn’t limping from walking down the street…and I would think about Oscar and my original dream, and, well, it got me running again.
Yeah, I’ve tried combacks in the past and my body just couldn’t do it – and who knows, my foot could get worse at any time, but watching Oscar, I’m more determined than ever.
So even though it offends my sense of fairness and I feel selfish for defending him, run, Oscar, RUN!
Andy B says
It would be an amazing story if he ran, but I think hell would break loose and he may even lose public support if he won gold or even broke the WR. He would suddenly become a “freak” as opposed to the underdog, or battler he currently is. We all know what has happened to Caster Semanya.
I think the biggest issue with the allowance of prostheses in able bodied competition is this: Prostheses as they are manufactured have the capacity to be made stronger; human limbs do not. The rate at which the improvement of prostheses occurs is obviously far quicker than the effect of evolution on the human limb.
This is why he at the very least should not be eligible to win a medal. In saying this though, might we one day be seeing all 8 finalists being leg amputees? Might the gold medal be awarded to an able bodied athlete who placed 6th in their semis?
If he runs and he wins, and carbon fiber legs are truly an advantage that is allowed, will people start cutting their legs off on purpose?
Jimson Lee says
@Joel, reminds me of the Cuba Gooding Jr movie “Men Of Honor”
Coach Bradley says
We are missing one major advantage Oscar has over other runners, he does not have legs. A legged person has to pump blood through the legs and toes in order to provide the O2 the muscles need to run. His heart does not have to pump blood to his legs. There for he should be able to run faster farther than a legged person, with a lower heart rate and a higher VO2 max. Quite simply, he is using fewer muscles to run than his legged competitors.
With Van Zyl (44.86), Pistorius (45.07) and three other south africans around the 45.5 mark a medal in the relay is a possibility. I suppose they will start him on the first leg because he is less manouvrable in the relay zone.
I agree with Lee on some points, but on others not so much. Longer ground time is not really favorable, that is more time on the ground and less time going forward. As far as fatiguing goes though, he has a clear advantage. It is very rare for any human to run negative in the 400m and go sub 46. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but its rare. Im sure Renny Qauow could come close, Rudisha as well, and maybe even healthy Jeremy.
You know what I think would be a good way to determine if he is at advantage is to measure and compare physiology of a few 45/46 sec runners; with different backgrounds, so maybe some 400/800 guys and 200/400 and even some 100guys that run the 400. That is measure muscle build percentage (obviously that would be skewed), VO2max, Lung size, hemoglobin etc. If they were somewhat similar than maybe Oscars times fair.
What gets me is that its unheard of to have a runner barely break 11 sec in the 100m and go 45.X. A 10.9 guy in theory should go just under 47 maybe 46 with proper strength training.
You forgot to mention the disadvantages. One of them being the fact he cannot use calves to propel himself forward. It’s a pretty important one.
this is an OUtRAGE first he is normal and can run in Olympics and also para Olympics, can’t have both an ‘able- body’ person is not allowed in para olympics. He was given a ‘extra’ shot in relay when protested and still came in last. Karma decided for SO.Africa an Oscar P. One or the other. What b.s.