Friday, August 17, 2007

Still running for glory

In mid July 2007, Oscar Pistorius had the opportunity to race against some of the top runners in the world. In the race in Rome, he ran 46.90 seconds in his second place finish. Two days later, he had his first opportunity to race with elite-class runners in the British Grand Prix but in heavy rains, he finished last at 47.65 and was disqualified for running out of his lane.

Since the race in Rome, officials from the IAAF have been reviewing high-definition footage of the race and analyzing the mechanics of Pistorius's running. Oscar runs with Ossur Cheetah Flex Foot running legs, having lost both his legs below the knee when he was young. He plans on qualifying and running in the able-bodied Olympics beginning with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The IAAF though, introduced a rule in March that banned any runner deemed to benefit from artificial help from competing. They have clarified that it wasn't meant to include athletes like Pistorius.

"Maybe he's overreacting over certain things. He seems to think that we've banned him then decided he was eligible. We clarified the situation. No one has banned him. We want to give him the benefit of the doubt," stated IAAF spokesman Nick Davies.

The research team being overseen by Elio Locati, hopes to work with Oscar in the biomechanics department of the Cologne based German Sport University in researching further, if Pistorius has an unfair advantage. Their initial research has shown that even though he had the same stride as the runner he beat, the able-bodied man's leg speed through the air was slower. They also stated that it seems that he distributes energy exactly opposite of the able-bodied runners, running faster at the end of the race.

Pistorius doesn't run on "bionic legs" but rather hyper-engineered, autoclave-forged, epoxy-impregnated, elastic pegs, basically, just pegs. the Cheetahs are longer than his legs would have been normally but he has no ankles, natures hinge that compresses with each step. Instead, the entire leg compresses, meaning that runners with them are constantly on tip-toe.

Running is basically a matter of forcing power into the legs and then, using them spring-like to bound forward. The lower legs of able-bodied runners return all the energy forced into them by the muscles at the hips and knees and return even more with the help of the power from the calves and ankles. Oscar doesn't have feet, ankles or calves so he compensates with a hip-generated stride. His coach estimates that 85 percent of his power comes from his hips and the rest from his knees and his stride tends have his feet flailing out to the side a bit on each rearward kick. Oscar though, is still just running on stilts really.

"I have full respect for the Paralympics, but I tell people all the time: You'll never progress if your mind is on your disability,"stated Pistorius.

Oscar admits that the 100-meter will never be his event because it takes him too long to get his stride going. He states that the 200 and 400 are his races, it takes him too long to get his stride and single amputees and able-bodied runners will probably continue to beat him. His handlers believe that he is just a world-class runner who had lost his legs. The developers of the Cheetah believe that they are a disadvantage that he has transcended.

I am not a technician but I believe he faces more disadvantages than advantages over an able-bodied runner. He has no ankles which means when he drifted towards the line in his race, he couldn't just adjust his foot slightly and stay within it by changing the angle. He is running on pegs, something that isn't a part of his body and has the ability to turn out on him or shift, something a sneaker won't do. His running mechanics may be entirely different from an able-bodied runner, he can't create or use the forces they can. Oscar may also have just developed his own style, such as Bode Miller has done while skiing and his determination to be the best has pushed him forward.

There are hundreds of able-bodied runners world-wide who will make the qualifying times for the next Olympics and face possibly competing to win a place on their country's team. Oscar Pistorius is one man among thousands of "handicapped" runners who is fractions of a second away from qualifying..........he may well be a statistical freak, his time of 46.90 only has to be lowered to 46.30 by the July 2008 qualifying date for him to be one step closer to running. I can only hope that they will do whatever testing is needed to allow him the chance to run, to make his dream, reality.

For my other posts, go here and here.

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