View Full Version : runners with prosthetics

05-23-2007, 06:50 AM
I was on vacation when the New York Times and Biomch-L firestorm on
the amputee sprinting topic hit.

Jay Martin published a nice paper in 2002 that analyzed the
historical progression of amputee sprinting.
"Historical analysis of amputee sprinting performance" American
Journal of Medicine and Sports. Sept/Oct. issue, volume 4 pp.
355-363, 2002
The focus of that article is on 100m sprints.
For now, amputee runners are no real threat to Olympic finalists at
100m and I doubt that he could make the South African team at 100 or
But, Pastorius has run 46.x seconds for 400m which puts him close to
contention for the South African Olympic team.
He could surely be on the Olympic team for many other nations.

Amputee runners have less available muscle power for acceleration.
Surely, that is a disadvantage in 100, 200 and 400m events.
With regard to longer running distances, I have a manuscript in
revision that compares world records for amputee runners vs. Olympic
runners from 100m to the marathon. The performance gap as a % of
race velocity widens a great deal at the longer distances, 1500m and
For example the marathon world record for male uni-lateral
trans-tibial amputees is 2:57 vs. ~2:05.
One possible explanation for the widening gap is that prosthetic
design has emphasized sprint optimization due to the emphasis in
Paralympics on sprint events.
But it raises a question, if carbon fiber prosthetics store and
return so much energy, why don't we see much better performance in
the distance races?

On a related note, we have published an abstract with experimental
data on the efficiency of amputee cycling. [Bartlett & Kram Med.
Sci. Sports Exerc. 2003] Amputee riders used a stiff pylon and no
prosthetic foot. They clipped directly into the pedal. Efficiency
was exactly the same as non-amputees. I would argue that amputees
have no advantage in cycling. Rather, they all seem to have a rough
time accelerating and climbing hills.

Steve Piazza made an analogy to Tiger Woods and laser vision
correction. What if a runner tore their Achilles tendon and had it
replaced with a slightly more compliant cadaver tendon? That would
be an artificial spring that might convey an advantage.
Are the Olympics only open to people who have never had an orthopedic surgery?

OK, back to Pastorius and my opinion.... I think that he should be
allowed to run.
The original point of the modern Olympics is not to win, but to have
a diversity of people from around the world compete.
Given all the drug scandals in sports, we could all use some positive stories.
Instead, the IAAF and IOC will just look mean spirited if they ban Pastorius.

Further, it is my impression that people with disabilities face more
discrimination in traditional Asian and African nations than in
Europe and the Americas. Bejing might be a good venue to raise

Rodger Kram
University of Colorado