January 14, 2008

When the amputee is barred from the Olympics because his prosthetic legs give him an advantage...

... then you know how wonderful technology is. But too bad for Oscar Pistorius.
[German professor Gert-Peter] Brueggemann found that Pistorius was able to run at the same speed as able bodied runners on about a quarter less energy. He found that once the runners hit a certain stride, athletes with artificial limbs needed less additional energy than other athletes.

The professor found that the returned energy ''from the prosthetic blade is close to three times higher than with the human ankle joint in maximum sprinting.''...

Pistorius was born without fibulas -- the long, thin outer bone between the knee and ankle -- and was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee.

34 comments:

Meade said...

We'll have to have a special Special Olympics.

mcg said...

Wow, this is absolutely fascinating. This is great: he is known as the "blade runner" :) I have to say that my intuition sides with the IAAF's claims that his running prosthetics offer a competitive advantage. One could, after all, conceive of a special shoe that non-amputees could wear that would provide much of the same energy storage/return advantage.

One way to look at it is this. Our legs are not optimized for running; they have a variety of purposes. Through training you can shift their balance of capabilities, but generally you can be the best only at one thing (sprinting, long-distance running, long jumping, high jumping, etc.)

So it is with these prosthetics. His "cheetah prosthetics", as he calls them, are designed for running, and he's not the only one that uses them. They are not the same prosthetics that he and other amputees use in day-to-day activities. A normal sprinter, however, can't just remove his sprinting legs and replace them with long-distance running legs, high jumping legs, or housekeeping legs.

But it is hard to argue like this when his achievement is so obviously immense. Here is a video of his silver medal 400m performance in the Roma GOlden League games. Amazing!

Eli Blake said...

I feel that he should still be allowed to compete however. If need be a specific rule should be written detailing what is allowed and what is not (just as we do for drugs), but as I wrote about Pistorius six months ago in a post entitled, the bionic man,

If prosthetics are just as good as human muscle and nerve today, then it stands to reason that it won't be that much longer before standard prosthetics will be much better than human parts. What do you do then? Create an artificial 'Olympics' (just as we've had paralympics for years) for people who can do things that others just can't? That would be a tragic trick for the differently abled-- to no longer be segregated in athletic contests because they weren't physically as good as or able to compete with others, but rather because they were stronger, faster and physically superior athletes than their friends and neighbors.

It is a fact that not everybody is the same. Athletic constest are by their nature unequal contests that involve strength, skill, training, endurance, experience, quickness, intelligence, discipline and coordination. Not all athletes will have all of these attributes in the same degree, and different sports may emphasize some of these more or less than other sports. Pistorius may in fact have a stronger and more efficient ankle than his competitors, but he still was beaten last summer in British time trials, so clearly there are runners who have something that he does not have. Whatever their advantage is, why is it more legitimate than his better brand of ankles?

And we accept for example, surgery so that a player with a bad knee can have it repaired surgically (or even replaced-- remember Bo Jackson's artificial hip?)

IF they are going to ban artificial replacements now that technology has caught up to evolution, then so be it. But it is wrong to ban Pistorius based purely on a ruling with no written rule or regulation that makes it clear. If there was such a rule written down, and it specified what kind of artificial replacements were allowed then a runner who really wanted to compete could be fitted appropriately.

Hoosier Daddy said...

This is interesting because along the same lines, there are some scientists and doctors who theorize that Lance Armstrong’s removal of a cancerous testicle actually contributed to his astounding successes in the Tour. Essentially it is argued that the removal of a testicle will cause a chance in the body’s hormonal system which, without getting into the scientific details essentially increases the power to weight ratio which would explain his complete dominance in the mountain stages.

While a prosthetic leg might enhance performance, I wonder how much of that is mitigated by the lack of feeling in the prosthetic.

It is a testament to technology that not only can such a debilitating adversity be defeated but performance is better than before. Kind of reminiscent of the $6 Million Man intro. “We have the techonology to make him faster, stronger, better than before.”

mcg said...

Well, I am afraid that wherever we decide to draw the line, it will not be a line but in fact a wide gray swath that will seem unfair to those caught in it (or just to the wrong side of it). I look at this particular prosthetic and I have to cry foul---again, what happens if someone develops a similar device for non-amputees that provides the same energy storage/return benefit? It seems that if one allows one, one must allow the other.

mcg said...

Here is a picture and video gallery from the web site I linked to above, showing what is very close to an able-bodied version of the very principles embodied in the Cheetah prosthetic.

goesh said...

Let him run and bruise the egos and pocket books of those who would begrudge a cripple his crutch, the same mean spirit that would begrudge a beggar his cup and a harlot her corner

goesh said...

Let him run and bruise the egos and pocket books of those who would begrudge a cripple his crutch, the same mean spirit that would begrudge a beggar his cup and a harlot her corner

raf said...

Just wait until an overly competitive but marginal performer has his/her legs amputated so he/she can get the advantage of the prosthetics.

raf said...

And just imagine the carnage if someone develops a prosthetic that improves one's scrapbooking.

tightspotkilo said...

It looks like the "The Six Million Dollar Man" and Martin Caidin in his novel "Cyborg" upon which it was based got it right way back in the early 70s.

mcg said...

Just wait until an overly competitive but marginal performer has his/her legs amputated so he/she can get the advantage of the prosthetics.

I could definitely see that happening. As it is now, the quality of foot and lower leg prosthetics has advanced to the point that it has changed the decision matrix for amputation. That is, people who would previously have suffered through painful rehabilitation are opting to amputate, and achieve better overall mobility as a result.

Revenant said...

Shouldn't it be possible to create prosthetic limbs that had the same weight and returned the same range of energy as a human ankle joint? He could use those for running, instead.

George said...

Why isn't this a bigger story?

I'm stumped.

Middle Class Guy said...

goesh said
...and a harlot her corner

In my professional career, I have denied the beggar his cup, the dope dealer his block, and the criminal his livlihood. I am responsible for some of the large numbers of Black men in prison.

But never, never, in almost thirty years have I denied a harlot her corner. That would be a crime against humanity. It would be economic genocide. I have always defended the right of harlots to their corners and I always will.

Now, will you vote for me?

mcg said...

George: you would think that this story would really have legs.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadisonMan said...

I'm thinking that if a college Professor found the results re: energy use and Mr. Pistorius' artificial limbs, well then those results must be true!

It's very cool to watch him run.

Lawgiver said...

Let him run and more power to him. I think just the fact that he does so well has got to be an inspiration to many of our wounded returning from Iraq. I go to Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio all the time where you can't stay very long without seeing someone missing body parts.

BTW a 46 second 400m isn't going to medal in the olympics but I sure would be cheering for him.

bill said...

There are more frequent occurrences of body modification no one seems to problems with. Lasik eye surgery for one -- risking permanent blindness for the chance to improve your eyesight to greater than 20/20. Then there's Tommy John surgery. It rebuilds the elbow ligament and pitchers usually come back throwing harder than they did before. Why wait until you blow out your elbow to correct this? Take 18-24 months off early in your career and make your arm stronger than it should be.

There's cyclist Saul Raisin. He grew up with a curved spine resulting in double the normal lung capacity and a heart three times the average size. Unfortunately, brain trauma from a crash will keep him from racing again. Still, I'm sure plenty of doctors have looked into increasing the lung space for athletes. Does a swimmer really need all those ribs?

Since so-called able-bodied athletes are allowed to modify their bodies, I don't have a problem with someone born without legs doing the same. In fact, I look forward to the future cyborg Olympics. Should be very entertaining.

mcg said...
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mcg said...

OK, now I think the arguments are getting a bit unreasonable. The bottom line is that if Mr. Pistorius was limited to the same equipment list that able-bodied runners were, he'd be defeated handily. And if everyone were able to add spring-based energy storage/release mechanisms to their running outfit---the same.

Either everyone gets to use technical aids or they don't. The alternative is for the IAAF to construct some sort of "body modification council" that subjectively evaluates the combination of disabilities and enhancements each athlete brings to the competition, in an absolutely vain attempt to create a level playing field for all. Runner A is without both lower legs, so he gets the super springs. Runner B lost just one leg, so his single spring doesn't get to be as strong. Runner C is a T53 parapalegic, so he gets a wheelchair, but only if its rolling friction is no less than 0.035. (The current wheelchair marathon world record is something like 1:20, over 40 minutes faster than the fastest runner.)

Runner D is unencumbered---so should we add 5 pounds of weight to each ankle?

No. The only reasonable approach is to define a single set of rules governing the technical aids that the athletes can adopt. If they can't compete under those rules---well, sorry; neither can 99.9999% of the population, or even 99.9% of those that actually strive for it. And there already is a venue for disabled athletes to compete: the Paralympics. Frankly, it's a bit of a smorgasbord, really, because the competitions have to be divided up by the type of disability. But it is certainly better than nothing.

Consider the current debate on steroids. Some people advocate that we need to continue our diligence and do our best to insure that the Olympics are drug free. Others think we ought to just blow the doors open and let people do whatever the hell they want. But would anyone advocate forcing some runners to remain drug free while letting others shoot up?

George said...

Ruth Anne-

I apologize for my ill-considered comment.

George

denbeste said...

This isn't anything new.

Paraplegics compete in the Boston Marathon using special racing wheelchairs. They usually have much shorter times than runners, because they can roll down hill, and the Boston Marathon course is very hilly.

Revenant said...

Lasik eye surgery for one -- risking permanent blindness for the chance to improve your eyesight to greater than 20/20.

Lasik carries much less risk of vision loss than wearing contact lenses does.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
martinla said...

No need for a "Special Olympics" for bionic athletes. He and others like him should be able to compete in the regular Olympics so that the spectacle encompasses the whole spectrum of human possibilty. The only difference should be that the regular Gold Silver and Bronze medals go to the top three non-bionic competitors, while the top three bionic finishers - where applicable - win medals made from suitably valuable man-made materials; carbon fiber perhaps equating to the Bronze medal, but I have no ideas what might mirror the Silver and Gold.

Cedarford said...

prosthetics should be just like drugs. allowed if they offer no competive advantage. the best way to reinforce this is for organized unions of athletes the freedom to shun and otherwise discourage the cheaters.
and for society to allow athletes to advocate for such prothesis or whistleblow against an "inner conspiracy" to allow such cheating - without the athlete being suppressed or intimidated by their union(s), international sanctioning policies for speaking out.

The great failure of the baseball players union was in sanctioning an unfair drug "arms race" that cost clean players their jobs in competion with a steroid-puffed competitor at spring training, allowed the records to be sullied and team accomplishments tainted. They thought it was simply to be considered in the classic baseball union mindset of "us against the owners" when all the owners wanted was more home runs, more wins, more attendence, more money. The Union and the owners were on the same side on the steroids. What was lacking was the freedom of a pro player to speak out publically after losing his job to a 40-40 second baseman who weighted 165 in college then magically "built himself up" in his senior year to 215 lbs while magically shaving a quarter second off their 430-yd dash time.

bill said...

Lasik carries much less risk of vision loss than wearing contact lenses does.

Really? That's good news and another point in favor of allowing surgical modifications. Most of the PEDs that are causing all the apoplexy are relatively harmless if used properly and we're rapidly approaching a future when they'll be no more dangerous than the stacks of vitamins and supplements athletes already take. If a swallowing a pill keeps you healthy and strong with no ill effects and surgery can improve you body with no ill effects, why not?

darrellhuff said...

Athletes who take performance enhancing drugs and use other such illegal methods choose to intentionally cheat. Amputees don't choose to have their limbs removed and replaced by prosthetics. I think that it would be safe to say that they would prefer it if their natural limbs were still attached. I think that denying them an opportunity to compete in the Olympics is a slap in the face for otherwise honest athletes. It makes no sense. Let them compete and help bolster a better perception of people with such disabilities. I doubt that the other whole-bodied athletes would cry foul.

JayC0042 said...

There's no way they can let this guy compete. If they do, they'll establish a precedent. Others will come along, with better prosthetics.
This could eventually erase the thin line between track & field and NASCAR

mcg said...

I think that it would be safe to say that they would prefer it if their natural limbs were still attached.

I'm sure they would. And I'd like to be able to run a sub-10 second 100 meter dash, too. Life sucks.

I think that denying them an opportunity to compete in the Olympics is a slap in the face for otherwise honest athletes.

Mr. Pistorius is not being denied that opportunity any more than I am. What is being denied Mr. Pistorius is the ability to use non-permanent mechanical attachments to assist in his effort. If he can still run as fast without them, so be it.

It makes no sense. Let them compete and help bolster a better perception of people with such disabilities.

That's what the Paralympics is for.

I doubt that the other whole-bodied athletes would cry foul.

You're kidding, right? The moment someone with artificial limbs medaled you would absolutely hear the able-bodied athletes cry foul. There is no doubt about it whatsoever.

halojones-fan said...

He'll just have to keep on trying 'til he runs out of cake.

And the science will get done, and we'll make a neat gun for the people who are still alive.

Methadras said...

If I didn't know any better, then I would say that the case is being made that we should opt out of our natural limbs and instead use artificial ones for the sake of optimized power output vs. energy use. With the major advancements in motorized robotic articulated limbs, this will be a non-issue. You will see these prosthetics become more commonplace because of the mechanical advantages they will give over natural limbs. Bionics for the masses. Can't wait.