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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Pistorius argument is weak , says Professor in Sports Engineering

Pistorius argument is weak , says Professor in Sports Engineering

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Pistorius complaint is weak, says sports scientist

By Toby Davis
3 September 2012

LONDON (Reuters) - Oscar Pistorius was not beaten because his opponent's blades were longer, a professor of sports engineering told Reuters on Monday.

The South African, dubbed the "Blade Runner", was upset by Brazil's Alan Oliveira in the final of the Paralympic men's 200 metres and prompted controversy when he used a post-race interview to question the legitimacy of his defeat.

Pistorius suggested that his opponent's prosthetics had artificially lengthened his stride, giving him an unfair advantage.

According to professor Steve Haake of Sheffield Hallam University, however, stride length and the size of his prosthetics were not the deciding factors in the result.

"The practical outcome of larger blades is a greater stride length, assuming you turn over your legs at the same rate," professor Haake told Reuters in a telephone interview. "But to do that, the mass of the legs needs to be smaller. It is called the conservation of angular momentum.

"Imagine the experiment when you spin someone round on an office chair with their arms outstretched. If they bring their arms in, they speed up. It is the same effect with athletes' prosthetics. When the mass is closer to the centre they are easier to spin.

"Just making the legs longer, therefore, doesn't necessarily make Oliveira quicker ... In any case, if you look at Oliveira, he actually took more strides, which means a shorter stride length. It was that that won him the race."

Professor Haake also questioned whether Pistorius, who runs against able-bodied athletes and competed in last month's Olympics, had damaged his argument that his prosthetics do not give him an advantage.

"I think he was saying the rules are wrong, that having the scope to lengthen the legs is not fair," Haake said.

"In doing this he has opened a can of worms. If he is saying, 'If you lengthen your legs you are at an advantage', then he blows his argument out of the water that he gains no advantage over able-bodied athletes by using prosthetics.

"He is in a difficult place and can't have it both ways."

Professor Andy Miah, of the University of the West of Scotland, is another who questions whether Pistorius is treading on awkward philosophical ground.

"It would be a mistake to say that Oscar has been beaten at his own game, but critics have drawn parallels to his concern about Oliveira with arguments against Oscar's participation within the Olympic Games," he said on his personal website (

"The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have said that Oliveira's legs are within the rules, but here we have another debate about what the rules should be in the first place ...

"The big question emerging from the race last night is whether the Paralympic rules within the T43 200m race need to be tighter.

"It's normal that a past winner should face young challengers and that they should eventually dethrone the champion. However, this looks like an unusual win and the concerns have been raised by other Paralympians about athletes adjusting their blade dimensions.

"If Oliveira's prosthetic legs are bigger and better and legal, then Pistorius really ought to get some. If his body height precludes this and the only reason why Oliveira has longer blades is that he is taller, then Pistorius has been beaten by a more biologically privileged athlete."



Alan Oliveira 'disappointed' by Oscar Pistorius's claims

Brazilian sprinter says he won his T43/44 men's 200m final through hard work rather than blade technology.

Owen Gibson, Olympics editor
The UK Guardian
Monday 3 September 2012

The Brazilian 20-year-old double amputee who sprinted from nowhere to shock the world's most famous Paralympian has said he felt "let down" by claims by Oscar Pistorius that he had won his gold medal unfairly.

Alan Oliveira revealed that he switched to taller prosthetic legs that remained within the legal limit just three weeks before overtaking Pistorius in the final 20m of their 200m T43/44 final, but put his gold medal down to hard work and dedication rather than blade technology.

As Pistorius apologised for the timing of claims that rivals gained unfair advantage by using blades that made them unnaturally tall, it emerged the South African had first raised concerns with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in January 2011.

The IPC, which confirmed the prosthetics of all eight finalists were within the legal limits before the final, said it would meet Pistorius and his camp after the Games but defended its rules.

"I was let down by how much he wanted to take away from me the merit for winning gold," said Oliveira. "All the speculation about my growth, he used that to try and take away from me the merit of winning.

"In 2008, Pistorius was the only guy who could run under 22 seconds at 200m. So I said I would run as fast as that in London. I practised, I trained."

The South African "Blade Runner", who also competed in the Olympics after a groundbreaking legal battle to be accepted in non-disabled competition, has concerns about the formula employed by the IPC to calculate the maximum possible height of the prosthetic blades used by his competitors.

Under IPC rules he would be allowed to run at a height of 193cm but has consistently competed on blades that make him 184cm, partly because they were the ones sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for use in non-disabled competition.

But by airing his criticism on the London track after being beaten in the 200m for the first time in nine years, Pistorius has opened himself up to criticism for being a sore loser and contradicting himself after arguing at length that he should be judged on athletic ability rather than technology.

Pistorius, who will face Oliveira again in the 100m and 400m, was said to be contrite after realising his outburst had overshadowed not only his young rival but also the British wheelchair racer David Weir's dramatic 5,000m victory.

But the South African also refused to back down. The IPC argues that its rules, based on a formula that determines the likely height of the competitor and adds a variance of 3.5% to take into account the fact athletes run on their toes rather than their heels, are fair and longstanding.

"He was hotheaded," said a remarkably composed Oliveira, who was surrounded by a scrum of Brazilian media at an impromptu press conference at the gates to the athletes' village. "I was upset with the comments and disappointed. But he apologised afterwards through the press and I felt better. He remains an idol to me."

"Nobody who has even kicked a ball in the street likes losing. I don't like losing, Pistorius doesn't like losing. But we have to be prepared for everything in life. I found his reaction strange," he said, noting that when the South African lost his 100m title at the world championships in Christchurch last year he did not make a similar public complaint.

However, it is understood that the South African did in fact complain privately. He then aired concerns about one particular athlete (not Oliveira) six weeks before the Games in a phone call to IPC communications director Craig Spence and his advisers also called the organisation two days before the Games.

Oliveira, who lost his legs at the age of two months to septicemia after contracting an intestinal infection, said he was inspired to start running when, as an eight-year-old, he saw the Brazilian sprinter Robson Caetano da Silva on television.

He was so keen to compete that he initially began running on wooden legs totally unsuited to sprinting and only started competing on carbon fibre blades shortly before his first Paralympic Games in Beijing four years ago.

He moved from his Amazonian hometown of Belem, where his family and friends gathered around the television to watch his victory, to Sao Paulo a year ago to train with the elite Brazilian squad.

His coaches said it was that intensive training, more than his new blades, that resulted in his improving times. And they reiterated that he had done nothing wrong within the IPC rules.

The runner said that he measured 177cm in his non-racing prosthetics, but changed to 181cm Ossur blades three weeks before the Paralympics.

Under the International Paralympic Committee's rules he is allowed to run on blades that take his height up to a maximum of 184.5cm.

"The coaches and I decided to try a higher blade. I tried the new height for the first time last year and it was difficult to get used to them. I decided to try them again earlier this year and it went a little bit better. Three weeks ago, we decided to really go for it," he explained. "The prosthetics don't run alone. Of course they are good for an improvement but there is not a significant time difference."

Oliveira's fastest time on his old blades was 22.45 seconds at the Brazilian National Championships last year – a full second slower than his winning time in London.

But Brazil's team leader, Ciro Winckler, said his improvement was also the result of better coaching and facilities in Sao Paulo, together with his physical maturity.

One of Pistorius's complaints is that the rules as they stand allow athletes to chop and change their height at will, as long as they remain within the legal limits determined by an IPC formula.

Along with questions over classification, the march of technology is a key issue for the IPC to grapple with as the Paralympics becomes ever more high profile.

Winckler likened the momentarily stunned silence in the Olympic Stadium when Oliveira crossed the line to the match known as the Maracanazo when Uruguay shocked Brazil in their own stadium at the 1950 World Cup. He believed Pistorius, faced with a wave of young challengers, may have backed himself into a corner. "[Blake] Leeper and Alan were teenagers. Now they are mature. Perhaps it's a problem for Oscar. It was not a good moment for Oscar."

Having done so much to promote the Paralympic movement, Pistorius now faces being overtaken by those he helped inspire. "People used to name me the Brazilian Pistorius. Thank God I'm not the Brazilian Pistorius any more. I'm Alan," said Oliveira.

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