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Do Prosthetic Limbs Give Sprinters An Advantage Or Not?



When Oscar Pistorius competed against able-bodied counterparts for the first time in 2007, he represented a non-defiant human’s will to change the norms and resolutions to surpass the limits. But people also started questioning the interference or penetration of scientific breakthroughs in athletics.

The question which sensationalized the world was “do sprinters with prosthetics have an edge over their able-bodied counterparts simply because of their prosthetics”? It had created unrest among the sprinters who were really not sure about the exact assessment of their own abilities against a competitor with prosthetics. Hence, they didn’t know if there are any kinds of threats to lose the race because their competitor is not a simple human being but a cyborg with some mechanical advantage.

Strong-willed determination or stronger artificial limbs?

  • The experts analyzed the results and statistics from the records of Oscar Pistorius and able-bodied sprinters are also divided when it comes to offering a unanimous opinion.
  • The statistics have clearly depicted that Oscar Pistorius has a lead of about 12 seconds in a 400 m sprint. This is a substantial lead over competitors and can affect the results in a big way.
  • But the defenders question the point by stating the probable reasons for this lead. Some scientists do prefer to dig a little deep for knowing a few more specific reasons for this advantage.
  • Likes of Dr. Rodger Kram of the University of Colorado & Dr. Hugh Herr of MIT’s Media Lab insist on pointing out the fact that Oscar Pistorius has an extraordinary ability to swing his legs at a faster rate than any other sprinter in history and contemporary athletics fraternity.

This is again counter-argued by Dr. Peter Weyand of Southern Methodist University and Dr. Matthew Bundle from the University of Wyoming. They begin their statement by arguing the fact that the vertical reaction force plays an important role in limiting the upward reaction to the leg, in turn, resulting in the faster repositioning of the leg. Also, the faster swing rate of Pistorius (due to his athleticism) was not very natural and believable when his records were examined with the records of other sprinters. Therefore, the erect posture of carbon fiber prostheses may have played a vital role in reducing the upward ground reaction force.

Limiting the advantages; but is this really helpful?

When some scientist comes up with solutions like changing the design and posture of prostheses, the question arises about the feasibility of such guidelines? Prostheses are being framed according to the needs of individuals. Hence, a different set of people may have different sets of prostheses which may not comply with the stricter norms of IAAF. That’s where the feasibility and actual needs of an amputee comes under scanners.

In the competitive world of athletics, technology and scientific breakthroughs have made some ambiguous overlaps with natural human abilities. We need to analyze every aspect of these overlaps with a more scientific and diverse perspective to arrive at a final verdict.