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Steve Piazza
05-19-2007, 12:01 AM
Ton,
Thanks for bringing up this very interesting topic. I agree with Andy Ruina
that laboratory comparisons to the natural limb to determine if the prosthesis
offers an advantage are likely to be fruitless. The two systems are so
different that I believe it's impossible to determine what the relevant
variables are and how differences in material properties, etc. translate into
an "advantage". Ultimately, the only relevant variable is speed. Because we
can't test the same runners with natural and prosthetic limbs, the only way to
test for differences in speed is to let the disabled athletes compete until
enough data have been collected to draw conclusions regarding whether the
prostheses confer an advantage.

The next question, for the sake of argument, is what is to be done ten years
from now when the top five times in the world have been run by "disabled"
sprinters. Most people would agree with the previous posters who have
suggested that sprinters with prostheses would compete in a separate class at
that point. But what about Tiger Woods and other golfers who have had their
corneas artificially reshaped to give them 20/15 or 20/10 vision? Good vision
confers an advantage in golf, but no one is suggesting that these athletes
compete on a separate golf tour. It seems to me that the main differences
between the two situations are access to the enhancement and the introduction
of man-made materials. No non-amputee sprinter will have his legs amputated to
take advantage of energy-storing prostheses, and even though Tiger has had his
corneas altered, they are still all "his". The really tough question will come
when someone figures out how to do a surgical tendon augmentation procedure to
enhance energy storage for sprinters.

There are many surgical procedures for restoring function after an injury,
but are there other currently available mechanical alterations that enhance
performance in uninjured athletes?

Steve Piazza

--
Stephen Piazza, PhD
Associate Professor
Departments of Kinesiology, Mechanical Engineering,
and Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation
29 Recreation Building
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802