CU research helped propel amputee sprinter to Olympics

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Oscar Pistorius (courtesy: Action Images / Craig Brough)

Oscar Pistorius (courtesy: Action Images / Craig Brough)

BOULDER, Colo. — “The Blade Runner,” a South African sprinter and bilateral leg amputee set to create a stir at the upcoming 2012 London Olympics, has two CU-Boulder professors to thank for helping him make his way to the starting line.

Integrative physiology professors Rodger Kram and Alena Grabowski were involved in studies analyzing the performance of Oscar Pistorius, who uses blade-like, carbon fiber leg prostheses in track events.

Shortly before the 2008 Olympics, Pistorius was barred from international competition by officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), who, citing a German study, ruled his Cheetah Flex-Foot leg prostheses gave him an advantage over other runners.

Data presented in April 2008 by a team that included Kram and Grabowski to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland — an international group set up to settle disputes in sports — showed Pistorius gained no physiological advantage over competitors when using the prostheses.

“The methodology of the German study that involved measuring Oscar’s oxygen consumption while running was flawed,” said Kram, who has been measuring the oxygen consumption of runners since 1983. “We found that while he is quite economical in oxygen consumption compared to your average Joe, his values are well within what would be expected for a high-caliber athlete.”

Kram also argued if a prosthetic device provides a mechanical advantage, it would likely provide an energetic or physiological advantage.

“Since there is no energetic advantage, it infers that the prostheses do not provide a mechanical advantage either,” Kram said.

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