The blade runner, as he became known, is all over the news for different reasons than those which first made him famous. There has been a lot of courtroom analysis and debate over whether or not he was wearing his prosthetics on the night in question.
Of course, I have no idea what really happened that night and am not about to start speculating, but what I can do is explain a little about why that information may be pertinent to the case.
Before that though, lets look at Oscar’s amputation and rise to fame.
Oscar Pistorius was born without fibulas in either of his legs (the outer of the two bones in the lower leg.) After seeking extensive medical advice his parents agreed to below the knee amputation of their 11 month old son. This decision would help his adult mobility and allow him to learn to walk as an amputee from step one. And, indeed at 18 month old he was up and walking on his very first set of prosthetic legs.
He was always a sporty child, but after a rugby injury that shattered his knee his doctor suggested running as part of his rehabilitation. He found his stride and in his first school race Oscar’s father noted the time and after some research found that his son had beaten the, then, Paralympics 100 meter world record.
Pistorius stormed onto the scene, breaking world records and winning medals, he soon set his sights on competing in able-bodied events. In 2007 he participated in an intensive study in Germany to assess the biomechanics of the running blades he uses. After two days of research it was found that the blades gave an advantage, allowing for approximately 25% less energy expenditure than an able bodied runner during sprinting.
Further to this there were some major differences in sprint mechanics, the upward push from the ground onto the limb (maximum vertical ground reaction force) and returned energy (positive work.) This heavily influenced the IAAF’s (international association of athletics federations,) decision to state that the prosthetics were ineligible for use in competitions conducted under their rules; e.g. The Olympics.
However, later review showed that not enough variables had been taken into account. In 2008 at Rice University, in Texas follow up test showed that; while it was true that at constant speed, level running showed lower energy use, other differences existed. The foot remained in contact with the ground for longer periods of time, while the swing (non contact) phase was shorter with lower vertical ground reaction forces.
They concluded that elastic energy return was not greater than that of an able bodied person and that the reduced force it is possible to apply to the ground reduced the ability for Pistorius to propel himself forwards.
This is believed to be the study that helped overturn the IAAF’s decision and Oscar was allowed to attempt to qualify for the Olympics, however at his final trial he failed to achieve the qualifying time to compete in 2008.
Oscar went on to become the first amputee to win an able-bodied world track medal in the 2011 world championships.
He finally qualified to compete in the 2012 Olympics and made it to the semi finals of the 400 m sprint and helped his country to 8th place in the relay.
In the same year his Paralympics title was snatched from him by the Brazilian, Alan Oliveira, amidst claims from Pistorius that the elongated blades, worn by the Brazilian, gave him an unfair advantage. Although this would make biomechanical sense, there is still some researched needed for conclusive prove. I will say that the limbs are fully approved by the Paralympics comity. Theoretically, Oscar could have also worn elongated prosthetics himself, however this would have rendered him ineligible to compete in the Olympic races he had fought so hard to be part of, as the elongated limbs are only approved for use in the Paralympics and not the Olympics.
I have had the personal honour of seeing Mr Johnny Peacock whizz along the track and he is the man who took the 100m title from Pistorius in those 2012 Paralympics. Oscar was much more gracious in this defeat, overtaken by 3 other competitors.
2013 is when it all changed for Oscar, he shot his girlfriend through a toilet door in his apartment in South Africa. All the trial evidence has been presented and a verdict is to be decided as to whether his actions that night were a mistake, manslaughter, murder or premeditated murder.
We will look at the relevance of the questioning about his prosthetics in a follow up blog.
Miranda Asher; Biomedical Engineer.