Can a Disabled Sprinter Have an Unfair Advantage?

Oscar Pistorius runs for South Africa

By now many have heard of Oscar Pistorius, aka the “Blade Runner”, who will be competing for South Africa in the 2012 Olympics in London. In addition to running the 400-meter dash, Pistorius will also be playing a role in the 1600-meter relay. So what makes this so special? Pistorius is a double amputee with no lower legs. The determined runner uses carbon-fiber prosthetic blades that allow him to race along able bodied sprinters but the rubbery blades have raised the question of whether or not Pistorius has an unfair advantage over his competitors.

While Pistorius is not necessarily the issue, he did not win the African championships and also failed to reach the South African Olympic standards (South Africa added him as the 125th and final member of the country’s Olympic team since earlier this year he did beat the overall Olympic qualifying time) the issue being raised is whether or not someone should be competing with the use of prosthetics that may propel the user slightly faster than a runner without it.

Who would imagine the day would come when someone with a disability is considered to have an unfair advantage? Pistorius, age 25, was born with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. His legs were amputated below the knee when he was only 11 months old. He was told he would never stand, much less compete in athletics. But on August 4th he will line up for the 400-meter dash and though not favored to win, he will give those with disabilities an inspiring story. Many disabled athletes are able to compete in the Paralympics, but this is the first time one will be lined up against able bodied Olympic athletes.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that Pistorius does not have an unfair advantage by using the prosthetic blades and mechanical engineers who have studied the mechanisms say that though there is some benefit to the propulsion achieved by the blades there is also a profound disadvantage to having instability in the biomechanics of a runner’s motion. Able bodied runners have a smooth balance between their upper body and lower body while Pistorius has to accommodate for the unnatural motions that his blades generate. Other concerns revolve around what will happen if the blades should strike another runner and cause that runner to fall. When sprinters bunch up there can be stumbling but analysts say the blades are no more a distraction that an able bodied runner’s feet so the arguments against Pistorius mostly fall flat. At HDS MEDALLION® we applaud the will, effort and determination of this young man and wish him the best of luck in London.

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