Oscar’s blades ‘an advantage’
05 August 2012 | PAUL KIRK
JOHANNESBURG - Tucker said that a mixture of bad science and “dishonest claims” had blinded people to the fact that the runner’s blades give him an advantage against able-bodied athletes.
Posting on his Science of Sport blog on Saturday, Tucker said: “Oscar Pistorius has just made his debut in the Olympic Games, finishing second in his heat, with a season’s best of 45.44s. It puts him into the semi-finals in joint 16th place, and ensures that the hype continues for at least another day.”
The post contains links to several earlier articles that take an in-depth look at the research done into Pistorius’s “blades”.
In 2008 Pistorius was banned from competing against able-bodied athletes by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).
The IAAF ruled that, because Pistorius had artificial lower limbs that were 20% lighter than human limbs, he was able to swing his legs faster than able-bodied athletes.
But only a few months after the IAAF ban, the Council for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) overturned the ban after a team of scientists submitted studies to the CAS showing Pistorius had no unfair advantage.
Referring to the research he links to in his blog, Tucker writes: “I wish the media would produce more of the same quality investigation as this, instead of allowing itself to become the platform for the aggressive PR and dishonest claims made in the other direction.
“Much of what you’ve read is an outright lie, much of it is clever obfuscation designed to make the science seem much more equivocal than it really is”.
Tucker says that the IAAF initially found that Pistorius used 25% less oxygen in a sprint than an able bodied athlete – due to his lightweight carbon fiber limbs.
Tucker wrote that while he believed there were procedural flaws in the IAAF hearing into Pistorius, he also believed that bad science and “dishonest claims” were used in the Pistorius appeal to the CAS – which was led by Dr Hugh Herr, a US scientist and amputee who helped develop the Cheetah artificial limbs that Pistorius uses.
“The comparison of Pistorius, a 400m sprinter, to elite and sub-elite long distance runners in the research by Herr et al is one of the best examples of this.
“They did have data on sprinters – it made Pistorius look physiologically and metabolically different, and would thus have confirmed the IAAF finding to have him banned.
“And so they presented instead a comparison between Pistorius and distance runners. Those scientists who went to the CAS on behalf of Pistorius also failed to disclose the finding of a mechanical advantage so large that the world’s leading authority on sprinting concluded that it would provide a 12 second benefit.”
Since being able to compete against able-bodied athletes, Pistorius has become the golden boy of South African athletics, raking in sponsorships and endorsements, and adoration from fans.
Earlier this month Scientific American published an investigation on whether Pistorius has an advantage – saying that members of the scientific team that presented the case for Pistorius to the CAS had started to change tune.
The magazine wrote that one of the scientists in the team, Peter Weyland, “believes that Pistorius’s prosthetics allow him to move in a way that no non-prosthetics wearer could, giving him an advantage.
The American magazine interviewed Weyland, asking him if he believed the alleged advantage that Pistorius has with his blades should disqualify him.
“Weyland will not say outright whether or not Pistorius should be allowed to run in the Olympics. Perhaps, he says, the sprinter represents something more important than the dispute over his light, springy legs,” the article says.
Attempts to obtain an after-hours contact number for Tucker failed.
At the time of going to print Herr had not responded to an e-mailed request for his contact details.
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