5:40am

Mon July 16, 2012
London 2012: The Summer Olympics

CU Scientists Help Prove 'Blade Runner' Should Compete

Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner who was initially barred from the Olympics because his carbon-fiber leg prostheses were ruled an advantage to his running, is now being allowed to compete in this summer's London Olympics.

In less than two weeks, Oscar Pistorius will be the first athlete to compete in the Olympics with a prosthetic device. Two in fact. The South African runner had both legs amputated below the knee as an infant, and now uses two blade-like carbon fiber prostheses to compete against his biologically-legged competitors.

It's been a rocky road to London for Pistorius, who was barred from competing in the Olympics in 2008 because a German study concluded his prostheses added an advantage to his running. Pisorius disputed the findings, and put together a team which included Dr. Rodger Kram and Dr. Alena Grabowski, both researchers at CU's Locomotion Lab in Boulder. 

"The prosthetic device minimizes the disadvantages of having your leg amputated," says Kram, who is quick to point out that the prostheses do not provide an advantage to Pistorius, but rather a disadvantage because they lack the varying spring of biological legs.

"Theres a lot of confusion about what Oscar's prostheses are," said Kram. "They are passive, elastic devices. Passive means they don't have any power on of their own, there's no batteries, there's no gasoline, no nuclear reactors. Oscar is 100% muscle powered."

The researchers had Pistorius run in a lab at Rice University with a snorkel-like mouthpiece and his nose pinched closed to measure his oxygen consumption.

Pistorius will compete in the 4-by-400-meter relay and the 400-meter sprint representing South Africa later this month at the Olympics in London. In August he will also compete in the Paralympics in the 100, 200 and 400 meter events.