View Full Version : Re: amputee sprinter

05-17-2007, 01:38 PM
There are a lot of obstacles in making this final decision, and
it is extremely important to make an unbiased decision if Oscar does
indeed qualify for the Olympics. But let's keep a few things in mind
here as social factors, before getting into the science side for one
short minute.
First of all, I would like to address Mr. Perry's comment: "There
is something to be said for the purity of the sport at the Olympic
level, and it should not be compromised for the sake of inspiration."
Allow me to counter this with a phrase that might sound familiar: "The
most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take
part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but
the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have
fought well." Sound familiar? It should; it's the Olympic creed -
the underlying objective of the entire Olympic movement. The entire
point of the Olympics is to provide inspiration! So should we be
compromising the so-called 'purity' for inspiration? In my opinion
its a no-brainer: the answer is an enthusiastic "yes." I also agree
with Joel that it would be much more fulfilling to do this with
legitimate science to back him.
In this day and age the 'purity' of sport is a subjective term to
say the least. Ben Johnson sums up many of today's athletes very well
(unfortunately) in saying that "I wasn't the only one cheating, I just
had the worst chemist." (Please excuse the stereotype). But to get
away from the latest drug scandal to see a bilateral amputee competing
with highly tuned professional athletes will do more for the
unification of the planet, able-bodied and disabled alike from all
cultures, than any other story you could fabricate about hardship and
overcoming obstacles. This is what the Olympics is all about:
inspiration and unity. True there are previous disabled athletes who
have competed before in archery and gymnastics and others, but we're
talking about the premiere event in the Olympics: the 100m. The
single most-watched race in the Olympics! A phenomenal opportunity
for a phenomenal story.
Scientifically speaking, one thing I'm surprised about regarding
the list serve replies so far is that nobody has touched on the socket
element of the prosthetic limb - the focus has been solely on the
device itself. It is scientifically shown that an amputee spends more
energy and requires more oxygen when walking than an able-bodied
person, let alone sprinting at full speed. This is almost solely due
to the body's interaction with the socket and its struggle to adapt an
external device. This is a main reason supporting research and
implementation of osseointegration if I'm not mistaken - to allow the
amputee an easier method of adapting an artifical limb.
While prosthetic components may or may not provide an advantage,
depending on your side of the argument, the real factor that should be
considered is that the athlete will be spending the same or similar
amount of energy as an able-bodied person in his sprint but will be
losing significant amounts of energy just to keep his body interacting
with the prosthetic socket efficiently. If this is indeed the case,
it would be like strapping a small parachute to the back of an
able-bodied runner. Also, it has been shown that a prosthetic limb
limits the mobility and range of motion of the hip joint in most
patients, another biomechanical fault of an amputee. Therefore, any
advantage, if there is any at all, could potentially be lost in the
end due to energy losses. This is something I would be very
interested to read more about or research in the future. As to the
specifics of the actual prosthetic feet, I could not speak on the
specifics as well as many on this list, so please feel free to educate
me further on these devices or address anything you disagree with.
In regards to the rules of sport: the rules of sport are constantly
changing. You need not look further than the NHL. Twenty years ago
goalie pads were just wider than the wearer's leg, now they are
practically the width of the net. It is natural that somewhere down
the road better technology will be coming out. We should expect that
and plan for it accordingly. As this technology comes out, new rules
will be made to keep the playing field even for everyone. But don't
hold Oscar back now just because there is potential down the road for
technological improvement. In the court of law the defendant is
innocent until proven guilty and until somebody comes out and can say
without a doubt that Oscar has a definitive advantage over an
able-bodied runner using the prosthetics that he wears, the world
should bear witness to his gift.
I encourage a healthy response to this article as I feel this is a
great opportunity for exposure on the field of prosthetics and
biomechanical analysis. It could potentially open up the doors for
future funding from different areas of the industry. Anyone with
resources I would encourage to do some preliminary work. Anything
that can be done is better than what's out there, as almost nothing
exists. Let's not waste the prime of an inspiring athlete while we
wait for science to catch up to him. Because science, like the rest
of the athletic field, will have a very hard time keeping pace.

Spencer Bell
Biological Engineering Student, University of Guelph

Quoting "Joel C. Perry" :

> As much as I would like to see Oscar Pistorius compete with able-bodied
> athletes, the Olympics is not the appropriate venue. Someone commented
> that we should not make a ruling based on how big the advantage is. I
> think this is a critical point. A ruling by the olympic committe will
> set a precedent for all future athletes running with assistive or
> replacement devices of any kind. Sure, today's versions may not be
> truly optimized for a specific body stature at top sprinting speed, but
> you can be sure further improvements will be made. Should a BK amputee
> equiped with an energy storing prosthesis be allowed to high jump?
> This doesn't sound fair to me. There already exists an event where
> using an energy storing device is allowed, and in fact encouraged; it's
> called the pole vault. Strapping an energy storing device to your foot,
> or in a more unfortunate case to your residual limb, although
> increadibly inspiring, seems no different than using a pole in pole
> vault but with smaller gains.
> Implications here reach far beyond sprinting. What about triple-jump?
> Now there's an event where quick energy storage and release is at a
> premium. I think we do have the ability to do some "simple"
> calculations on running speed limits, ignoring dynamics of the start.
> But is this even necessary? We are approaching a continuum of allowance
> that could change the future of the olympics and olympic records
> forever. I could see potential to place ranges limits on mass,
> stiffness, and damping for the case of sprinting, but I don't see such
> potential in jumping sports. It may be the case also for running
> events, but at least in jumps, there is an element of uncertainty at
> each hard plant and take-off regarding whether the muscles will
> withstand the explosive forces on that attempt. Some missed attempts
> and faults occur because the strength or explosiveness just wasn't
> there when you needed it, or the muscle just "gave out". These aren't
> issues you have with a prosthesis, lack of explosiveness maybe, but is
> that enough to consider it "a wash"? As Andy Ruina suggested, seperate
> classed could be designated for carbon-foot athletes and skin-and-bone
> athletes. Until property limits are designated, this is the only way to
> compete.
> There is something to be said for the purity of the sport at the
> Olympic level, and it should not be compromised for the sake of
> inspiration.
> That being said, I hope that someone can prove convincingly by 2008
> that specific limits on his prosthesis will gaurantee there is no
> non-anthropomorphic advantage, so that Oscar Pistorius might realize
> his dream legitimately.
> _____________
> Joel C. Perry
> Biorobotics Laboratory
> University of Washington
> Seattle, Washington, USA
> 206-221-2595
> brl.ee.washington.edu
> Andy Ruina wrote:
>> Ton and biomech-L: May 17, 2007
>> About Oscar Pistorius and his carbon fiber feet. Do
>> they give him an unfair advantage?
>> Wouldn't it be great if there were a scientific answer to
>> this question?! :) But for now, as best I know, no-one has
>> a reasonable predictive model that could confidently predict
>> whether a given passive orthotic helps or hurts and how much.
>> There are exceptions, for example we could confidently
>> predict that plyers and levers help increase the
>> forces people can apply. But for locomotion I don't think
>> we understand the mechanics well enough.
>> Many pros and cons we can list, of course, as others have
>> done already in answer to your question. And this understanding
>> will help motivate new designs. But knowing ahead of time,
>> without experiments on people, what will help or hurt and how
>> much is more than the state of the art. At least as it looks
>> to me.
>> `Scientific' claims on either side are not credible.
>> That muscles can give back more work than they absorb
>> is a nonsense explanation of how muscles make things
>> easier/faster than synthetic springs. That springs
>> are necessarily helpful is also not informative.
>> But there is a scientific answer.
>> Empirical measurement and statistics are science.
>> Once there is a data base then we will see whether springy
>> orthotics let amputee athletes, on average, do better than
>> athletes with feet. Even one guy might provide suggestive
>> statistics. If one guy all of a sudden brakes
>> lots of records by a lot, even an n of one, would be pretty
>> indicative. That is, if this one guy gets a gold medal
>> it means he's pretty special. And since there is something
>> conspicuously special about him, his feet, that would be
>> the likely (though not assuredly) best explanation. That
>> is, if I was the judge, this guy would have trouble
>> convincing me that he was the "best" athlete even if
>> he is, which he seems to be, incredibly good. He could
>> be _the_ best, but that is not what occam's razor would
>> say. And I don't see any 'science' that would make a better
>> case.
>> My personal guess is that in the coming years, with orthotics
>> some people will gain a speed advantage in running,
>> even if starting with a disability. Why not? Would
>> one doubt that a double BK amputee could swim pretty
>> fast with fins? Why should running be so different?
>> About the ethics. All competition is unfair, the better
>> one's have an advantage. To make the outcome less
>> predictable, to give more people a chance to win,
>> to make it more of a challenge for all, sports
>> officials put competitors in
>> bins that have historically been shown to be
>> predictive, e.g., by sex (men vs women), by weight (heavyweight
>> vs lightweight), by number of people (1,4, or 8 in
>> a boat), by age (youth vs adult), and even by ability
>> (major league vs minor league). Once there are a lot
>> of carbon foot runners that run, on average, faster than
>> skin-and-bone runners there can be a class for them too.
>> In the mean time, I hope they let the guy run and see
>> how he does. "Fair" or not I don't know, but an inspiration
>> for biomechanics and orthotics for sure.
>> -Andy Ruina, ruina@cornell.edu, http://ruina.tam.cornell.edu
>> Universal phone (SkypeIn, works wherever I am): 607 821-1442
>> Finland cell: +358 40 872-6255 (+ means dial 011 from USA)
>> On May 17, 2007, at 1:25 AM, Ajit Chaudhari wrote:
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: * Biomechanics and Movement Science listserver
>>> [mailto:BIOMCH-L@NIC.SURFNET.NL] On Behalf Of Ton van den Bogert
>>> Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2007 10:59 AM
>>> Subject: [BIOMCH-L] amputee sprinter
>>> Yesterday's New York Times had an article about a double amputee from
>>> South Africa who runs 100 m in 10.9 seconds and appears to be
>>> still improving.
>>> There is debate whether he should be allowed to run in the 2008
>>> Olympics, if he qualifies.
>>> The IAAF says that his energy-storing feet are an unfair advantage.
>>> Others say they are not, since they only return 80% of the energy.
>>> There are
>>> calls for further research.
>>> The athlete, Oscar Pistorius, said "I think they're afraid to do the
>>> research. They're afraid of what they're going to find, that I
>>> don't have an
>>> advantage and they'll have to let me compete."
>>> What do the Biomch-L subscribers think? I know we have some subscribers
>>> who are experts on this topic.
>>> The full article is here:
>>> http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/15/sports/othersports/15runner.html
>>> Ton van den Bogert, Biomch-L co-moderator
>>> http://www.Biomch-L.org
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