CU research helped propel amputee-sprinter Oscar Pistorius to Olympics

July 27, 2012

July 27, 2012           

University of Colorado Boulder researchers will be watching closely when South African bilateral leg amputee and sprinter Oscar Pistorius, dubbed “The Blade Runner,” makes his way to the starting block for the 400-meter sprint in the 2012 London Olympics.

That’s because studies by Professors Rodger Kram and Alena Grabowski of the integrative physiology department helped lead the way for Pistorius to compete in the Olympics.

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CU research helped propel amputee-sprinter Oscar Pistorius to Olympics

July 27, 2012                                                                                    Alena Grabowski

University of Colorado Boulder researchers will be watching closely when South African bilateral leg amputee and sprinter Oscar Pistorius, dubbed “The Blade Runner,” makes his way to the starting block for the 400-meter sprint in the 2012 London Olympics.

That’s because studies by Professors Rodger Kram and Alena Grabowski of the integrative physiology department helped lead the way for Pistorius to compete in the Olympics.

In 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations barred Pistorius from international competition. The decision was based on a German study that concluded the blade-like Cheetah Flex-Foot leg prostheses gave Pistorius an advantage over other runners. But Grabowski says their research disproves that notion.

CUT 1 “We took a look at the scientific evidence that was presented to the IWAF and it didn’t seem correct. The biggest issue we had was in the way they measure metabolic rate. (:11) You need to measure oxygen consumption at steady state metabolic rate – steady state running speeds that are sub- maximum.”  (:18)

To do this Grabowski says they measured the mechanical and physiological data of Pistorius as he ran.

CUT 2 “You can study how a person moves by studying the force they exert on the ground for instance. So we’ve got a special treadmill that senses the force in 3 dimensions. (:10) So that is the biomechanics side, the metabolic side is that you put a mask on someone and you measure how much oxygen they consume as they move.” (:18)

By measuring metabolic rate Grabowski says they can tell if Pistorius has an advantage. If he is consuming less oxygen yet running at an elite level then chances are the prostheses is giving him a mechanical advantage since he doesn’t have to work as hard to run at the same speed as other runners. But that wasn’t the case, says Grabowski.

CUT 3 “So he was equivalent to other elite athletes. These prosthesis, some people claim that they give them an advantage.  So if he has a mechanical advantage with his prosthesis, it should show up in something like the metabolic rate being exceptionally good.  So then it’s easier for him to achieve the given speed. (:19)  

In 2008, a team that included Kram and Grabowski presented data to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland that showed Pistorius gained no physiological advantage from the prostheses over competitors. The team’s evidence and testimony played a key role in overturning the decision, allowing Pistorius to compete in able-bodied events.

Pistorius failed to make the 2008 Olympic team, but this year he was selected by South Africa’s Olympic Committee to run in both the individual 400 meters and a leg of the 4x400 meter relay. Grabowski says she’s anxious to see how Pistorius performs.

CUT 4 “I am very excited to see that. He’s got such a drive and he’s so passionate about what he’s doing, sprinting.  I hope that he can make it to the semifinals, but I’m not sure how he’s going to do. I mean he hasn’t put down the best ever times but yea we will see how he does. I think he is going to be pretty remarkable to watch.” (:21) 

Kram and Grabowski have also studied the biomechanics of people with one amputated leg over a wide range of running speeds. They found the force produced by the prosthetic, carbon fiber leg, was 9 percent less than that of the unaffected leg. Applying force to the ground is crucial in sprinting events, says Grabowski.

CUT 5 “If you can compare the two legs you can see the force discrepancy, too.  So a biological leg can generate much more force than the leg using the prosthesis.” (:08)

Grabowski is beginning a research effort to further develop battery-powered ankle-foot prostheses for walking and running. Such prostheses have the potential to restore mobility to users similar to the mobility they had prior to amputation,

-CU-

 

 

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