Sunday, June 3, 2007

Should Oscar Pistorius Run in the Olympics? Let Science Decide.

Fred has left a new comment on my post "A Challenge To My Readers and Myself": As long as you're bringing it up, what are your thoughts of a legless man competing in the Olympics?

The IAAF's argument is that Oscar Pistorius' carbon-fiber prosthetic legs give him an unnaturally long stride that gives him an unfair advantage over other athletes. Nick Davies, Communications Director for the IAAF says, "we've had feedback which has said... that the guy has a 3 or 4 meter stride."

Robert Gailey, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Miami Medical School who has studied amputee runners, insists that, "a prosthetic leg returns only about 80 percent of the energy absorbed in each stride, while a natural leg returns up to 240 percent, providing much more spring."

Pistorius' racing prosthetics have a much different appearance than ordinary prosthetics, even his own non-racing ones (watch video below). Does a different appearance necessarily mean that Pistorius' "Cheetahs" (as the prosthetic legs are called) provide an unfair advantage?

In the video, Davies says that, "in the end, the rule just has to be fair." I have a simple but effective solution that will determine whether or not allowing Pistorius to run with his Cheetah prosthetics is fair.

Let's test a group of Pistorius' likely competitors and determine the range of their heart rates immediately after a race. Then let's have them run again wearing some kind of special shoes with springs that offer a higher energy return than do their own legs. My theory is that the range of their heart rates will be lower with the springs than without.

Then let's test Pistorius. If his heart rate immediately after a race is within the same range as the other athletes' in races run without the shoe springs, that means he is working just as hard as they are. That would prove he doesn't have an unnatural advantage over other runners; therefore, fairness would dictate that he should be allowed to run. If his heart rate is closer to the range of the other athletes' in races run with springs, that means he does have an unfair advantage. If that's the case, don't let him run.

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