Thursday, November 26, 2009

Amputee Advantage? Part II of the Prejudicial Attack on Amputee Runner

 (Prior post is here.)

First, I want to clear up that the current attack on Oscar Pistorius is in regards to bilateral amputees only. These researchers realize the folly in thinking unilateral amputees have any advantage even with an advanced running prosthesis like the Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah. In reality, most able-bodied people will not make this distinction just as many never realized Oscar was cleared to compete with able-bodied athletes in Beijing.

Here is a link to "Science of Sport" post that got my dander up:

"Oscar Pistorius gets a 10 second advantage in a 400m race"

The author of the above article, Ross, thinks that may only be a 5 second advantage, but still an advantage nonetheless. Please read the article and my comments on the bottom of that article's page.

Now note the title is "Oscar Pistorius gets a 10 second advantage" which is a very specific calculated time...or is it? If Ross says is may only be 5s, that is a 100% disagreement in the so-called science. In a 400m sprint, those are monumental/gigantic differences.  I say it is what it is: BULLSHIT.

I'll sum up accurately, I hope:
  1. The mechanics of a bilateral and unilateral amputees are different
  2. Oscar Pistorius, if able-bodied, would be a 51 - 56s 400m sprinter
  3. Oscar Pistorius, due to his nearly lifetime spent as an amputee on prosthesis, through time and training has maximized his advantage like no other and this is the key to his success
We could probably expand this list a bit but this will do for now.

On point 1, I would agree the mechanics of bilateral and unilateral amputees are different. Being once able-bodied and now a unilateral amputee, I know how different I currently run, almost like two different people through my left and right motions. Bilateral in some respects would be closer to an able-bodied person, particularly for BK amputees. (As a side note, look at videos of Richard Whitehead sometime. He is a bilateral AK runner with a unique swinging gate. His current world leading time is 2:50:38). You cannot truly understand a bilateral amputee's challenges unless you are one. You cannot know what it is to be an amputee until you have lost your limb(s). You can put a blindfold on to experience semi-blindness, but until your eyes are out for life, you don't know blindness.

I think point 2 is the most unscientific and profoundly damning/disturbing evidence to the current argument that Oscar has an advantage. It is impossible to know what an able-bodied Oscar Pistorius might run for 400m. This is a pure speculation, lacking basis in any fact or historical precedent, since Oscar has been an amputee since he was a child. Any scientific pronouncement based on this rabbit-out-of-a-hat guess dooms the very unscientific conclusion. As best I can tell, these scientists backed into this guess based on their conclusion of Pistorius' prosthetic advantage. They are saying his 47.49 400m time means he is in reality a 51 - 56 second 400m runner. Really.

I've read that some believe Usain Bolt's magnificent WRs have come 20 years early, how did the science miss that mark by 180o? It's because the science of sport is largely in its infancy, and the lab-coated investigators know much less than they let own except when their pants are down and they are running for cover. Not that I don't think it's a field worthy of intense study and scrutiny, but I simply do not believe they are in a position to know within a reasonable margin of error about Pistorius' natural ability and even less to know, with any certainty, that he has an advantage over his faster able-bodied Olympian competitors.

Lastly, on point 3, read Oscar's book "Blade Runner" and take a look at the prostheses that he first wore as a child. That these gave him some advantage in later years is, to me, mind-boggling. Barely a cushioned cup on the ends of his stubby legs, if anything, outside of helping with balance, would take a huge amount of relearning and training to overcome the habits of walking and running in such crude, embryonic prostheses. It speaks volumes of the hard work that Oscar has achieved to maximize his performance on his Cheetahs, something that I find amazing, not something to try to tear apart with massaged science.

Here is a reasonable article Rick Ball sent to me by David Epstein at Sports Illustrated:

"A not-so-civil debate"

If science can definitively prove Pistorius has some advantage, then so be it. However, I can find no scientific evidence or physical records to believe this is true. I do think something is going on the peripheral, perhaps some not-so-scientific pride, but Pistorius is paying a high price for all amputees.

As an aside, recently bilateral amputee Rudy Garcia-Tolson became the first AK bilateral Ironman. I wonder how long it will be before the so-called scientists go after his achievements?

I'm all for science uncovering truth, but when politics get involved with science, truth is the loser.

As seen throughout history, it is the cry of the mediocre to tear down the achievers of greatness. Oscar Pistorius has overcome immense adversity to compete against the best sprinters in the world. This is something we, as human beings, should realize propels our species faster, higher, and stronger.

Fear not competition or excellence.

Or the truth.

I am going to say it again:



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