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Para-Olympian “Cheetah” runs risk of ban

For para-olympian Oscar Pistorius, his dream has turned into something of nightmare. His augmented limbs have landed in trouble with the IAAF, and they say he can’t compete…

For para-olympian Oscar Pistorius, his dream has turned into something of nightmare. His augmented limbs have piqued the interests of the IAAF, and they say he can’t compete…

Having the foremost authority in athletics like the International Association of Athletics Federations ban you from competing is about as hard as it gets, but I agree with them entirely.

But that’s not to discount or discredit what Oscar has achieved. He’s an athlete, there’s no doubting that; he along with every other para-olympian.

And while every para-olympian has a story to tell, Oscar Pistorius is a man who’s gone further than most, in a very literal sense.

“Pistorius was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee but only began running competitively on the carbon fibre blades four years ago.”

But the fundamental problem is that Oscar is running on a set of prosthetic legs which are modeled on the ankle physiology of a Cheetah, a large predatory cat, found in southern Africa, known for its formidable turn of speed.

And as humans, we don’t have such an ankle arrangement.

So thanks to Flex-Foot, developer of the “Cheetah” augmentations, Oscar has a formidable advantage over his fellow athletes, by way of adopting Mother Nature’s smarts in the form of man-made technology.

His prosthesis raised concerns at the highest level, so his running abilities were put to the test:

“A scientific study revealed that Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner”, used 25% less energy than able-bodied runners to run at the same speed … Professor Peter Bruggemann’s research concluded an athlete using the “Cheetah prosthetic” could run at the same speed as able-bodied athletes but use less energy.

The tests also revealed that running with prosthetic blades led to less vertical motion combined with 30% less mechanical work for lifting the body.”

So not only is Oscar overcoming his physical disabilities, his Cheetah-inspired prosthetic legs are over-compensating to the point of Oscar being given an advantageous lead over not only fellow para-olympians, but able-bodied olympians, too.

Most other para-olympians in his class typically have only the one leg. For those guys, their prosthetic limb must act and operate in the same way as their remaining leg, or they’re going to struggle to run.

But the thing is, Oscar has lost both. And thanks to the Flex-Foot team and their technology, they’ve effectively re-engineered his limbs.

In my mind, it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to mimic the exact action of the human leg in such a way as to cancel out the advantages that the technology confers.

For his fellow para-olympians, their single false leg can be tweaked to match the actions and strengths of their real leg. But for Oscar, there’s no such base point.

I really feel for the lad, I honestly do. But as it stands, his false limbs give him a leg up over just about everyone else. Left to run free, this Cheetah would soon find himself being called the cheater…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

5 replies on “Para-Olympian “Cheetah” runs risk of ban”

To my mind, the fact that he HAS NO FEET, is such a big disadvantage that I cannot see how they can really justify a ban. Moreover, what’s to stop another able-bodied athlete from using tweaked running shoes and kit that gives them an advantage over those who don’t use the same kit, or undertaking a particular type of training regimen that gives them an efficiency advantage again over those who don’t use it. 25% efficiency improvement is a big advantage, but it’s only down to energy use, not down to actual speed someone might be able to run with such an advantage.

db

Hi David, I see your point, but this guy is sporting limbs modeled on another animal that’s predisposed to excelling at high-speed running.

That’s a colossal advantage.

Plus, the research done on Oscar is just for this one guy — how might such augmentations benefit someone similarly disabled? By an even greater advantage, I should imagine.

Think of it — he lost his lower legs as a child, so he never developed upper leg muscle mass.

Now imagine someone losing their legs later in life. They would have this muscle mass and they would be more able to utilize it.

As I said, there’s no way to compare his legs to a normal human. In that sense, there’s no way to offer a fair comparison.

Running spikes are known quantity. If you want better spikes, you pay for them. So it’s a question of equipment. Similarly, if you want to run faster or longer, then you train harder.

Those two examples are a world away from totally re-engineering your legs!

But it’s unlikely that someone would be willing to amputate their extremities to win a athletic event…

I do get your point. Of course, they can “engineer” all they like, but basically these are still just two springy flaps strapped on and there is the issue of his being upright as opposed to running on all fours. It would be very embarrassing if they let him run and he lost badly, of course.

Anyway, I guess the real problem is that he is unique and in using this equipment he is giving himself an unfair advantage that exploits his uniqueness. Whereas anyone with the dosh can slip into a decent pair of spikes…

db

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